The Boston Red Sox have rotation depth, but the issue is quality depth. Brian Johnson just may provide some surprising quality once stretched out.
The immediate baseball future has taken on a sudden glow for lefty Brian Johnson with a rather pedestrian, but acceptable performance against the Toronto Blue Jays. Johnson tossed 4.2 innings, allowed two earned runs, and issued a depressing four walks. This time it was 84 pitches as Johnson continues to be stretched out after being sequestered in the bullpen. No win for Johnson, but a Red Sox victory.
Circumstances have conspired to aid Johnson who will now get an extended look based on the rash of injuries that have cropped up in the Red Sox rotation. Steven Wright – he of a balky knee – apparently is stuck in reverse on his recovery. Eduardo Rodriguez – arguably the second best in the rotation – now has a “sprained” ankle. Rodriguez has had notoriously slow recoveries from injuries and may or may not be watching for a while as he travels to the disabled list.
Johnson was a former first-round pick with a checkered path to the Red Sox roster. Injuries, emotional issues, and inconsistent performances have impeded Johnson’s progress. That said – some of the lack of progress could be management related. With a lesser team – pick any of about 20 – Johnson would have been tossed into the pitching pool (deep end) to sink or swim.
The brass ring now awaits Johnson. Johnson slowed promise early on in 2018 with a six inning, one run allowed, win against Miami. Granted that Miami is a notch above (or maybe below) AAA ball, but they are still an MLB team. On a secondary good note, Johnson has tossed 4.2 innings against the Yankees with no runs.
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With good baseball news, there is invariably bad baseball news and that means Tampa Bay. Johnson has in the parlance Red Sox fans are familiar with “just sucked” against the Rays. In 4.2 innings Johnson has been simply hammered allowing seven earned runs and 12 hits. Johnson has given ample evidence this season that his destiny is not the bullpen. The 27-year-old has made 21 relief appearances (0-2, 5.10) and been quite hittable as shown.
Lefties without formidable speed usually are called “crafty.” A baseball or scouting euphemism that defines no upper 90s hard one. In fact, Johnson averages under the magical 90 barrier (89.1). Johnson has a crafty one (fastball) mixed in a relatively attractive curve and slider on about half his tosses.
Johnson is apparently a staple in the rotation as he builds up strength and credentials. His last two starts prior to Toronto can best be described as average and similar to the latest effort with a combined 8.2 innings and three earned runs. Both starts provided the impetus to eventual Red Sox wins.
Johnson will pitch to contact (10.7 H/9) and the walks do occasionally raise an issue with a 3.1 BB/9. And a 40.6 GB% can certainly improve. As a starter, Johnson now has pitched 19.1 innings with a 2.83 ERA. Boston is 4-0 in Johnson starts. Not a bad outcome for someone saved from roster extinction over having no options remaining.
Admittedly I was no fan of Johnson and considered him just a place holding marker on the roster until something better surfaced. Johnson, however, has displayed enough to continue taking the mound and may eventually force a recovering Drew Pomeranz into a bullpen role.
Johnson is a fifth starter and that is best defined as just give me a quality start and Johnson may just be able to do that on a fairly consistent basis. I and Red Sox fans should have no illusions that Johnson will suddenly morph into Jon Lester, but I certainly would rather hand the ball to Johnson than another Doug Fister type.