Red Sox: Brian Johnson prepared to be a starter or reliever
By Sean Penney
Left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson is “totally cool” with transitioning to the bullpen if that’s what the Boston Red Sox ask him to do.
Brian Johnson isn’t quite sure what his role with the Boston Red Sox will be in 2018 but he’s ready for anything.
The 27-year old spoke to reporters at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner on Thursday to address questions on how he may be utilized this season.
"“I haven’t really sat down and talked to anybody about it,” said Johnson, per MassLive.com. “I think I’ll know more probably at the beginning of spring training. At least a little bit more. But I don’t know. Whatever they need, I’m willing to do. Anything to help. But I just want to help, whether it’s starting or out of the bullpen. I’m totally cool with whatever situation is there.”"
Johnson is out of minor league options, meaning he would need to clear waivers in order to be sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket. This presumably means the Red Sox will make every effort to find a spot on the roster for him, although that doesn’t necessarily mean a spot in the rotation will be open for him.
The No. 5 spot in the rotation remains a question mark with Eduardo Rodriguez recovering from knee surgery. Steven Wright seems to be the frontrunner for the role, barring a setback in his own recovery following a season that was almost entirely wiped out by injury. If neither is ready to begin the season – or if another Red Sox starter were to go down before Opening Day – Johnson could be called on to fill out the rotation.
However, he would most likely be viewed as a temporary fill-in. If Johnson thrives in the rotation he could potentially run away with the job but otherwise, he’ll eventually relinquish the spot to a more established starter. That makes a stint in the bullpen almost inevitable, regardless of where he starts the season.
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Johnson has made 34 appearances in the Red Sox organization, all of which came as a starter. He’s never pitched out of the bullpen in his professional career. Despite his lack of experience in the role, Johnson may end up finding his niche in the bullpen in a variety of different roles.
The Red Sox could use Johnson as a long reliever, allowing him to remain stretched out for a potential spot start if the need arises. He has lasted more than five innings only twice in six career major league starts so a few innings out of the bullpen wouldn’t be drastically different from what he has provided in previous chances with the Red Sox.
He could also be used as a situational reliever. Boston lacks left-handed reliever depth and Johnson’s career splits suggest he could lock down lefties. In his brief major league career, right-handed hitters are battering Johnson to the tune of a .295 average but he has held left-handed hitters to a .133 average.
Alex Cora will have some options on how to utilize Johnson. The new manager should be comforted to hear that Johnson is ready to embrace any role that is asked of him.
Next: Who will be the Red Sox closer in 2019?
Johnson still has upside as a starting pitcher in the long run but in 2018 he may be needed most out of the bullpen. A lot can change over the course of a long season but Johnson is ready for anything.