The Boston Red Sox have all but confirmed that they are going to use an opener if there’s a season, and Brian Johnson is the perfect man for the job.
It’s no secret that the Red Sox will most likely be instituting the opener for the 2020 season. With several of their veteran pitchers out of the picture and a near-zero influx of incoming talent, there isn’t much option. We’ve seen some teams execute the opener system to perfection, just look at Chaim Bloom’s former squad, they wrote the book on it.
It’ll be something new for the Red Sox and interim manager Ron Roenicke, but with Bloom, at the helm, they have a good chance at success. So who should get the call to take the hill to start that fifth day? In my mind, the perfect answer to that question is lefty Brian Johnson.
I know many of you may scoff at that notion as Johnson hasn’t always been the most consistent but he does offer reliability. That may sound like a bit of a confusing process as those two phrases are polar opposites, but hear me out. This is a rotation that was once dominated by southpaws but is now righty heavy, adding another lefty will bring balance to the force.
Last season was Johnson’s worst since being called up in 2015, but the two years in between, he got the job done. Let’s take a look at his numbers:
2015: 0-1/8.31 ERA/4.1 IP/1.615 WHIP
2017: 2-0/4.33 ERA/37 IP/1.481 WHIP
2018: 4-5/4.17 ERA/99.1 IP/1.430 WHIP
2019: 1-3/6.02 ERA/40.1 IP/1.884 WHIP
He stayed within a range but 2019 saw that get thrown right out the window. A decrease in innings couple with some injury woes saw his number tank pretty quickly. I look at 2018 as a more accurate depiction of what Johnson is capable of when healthy and available. If he’s at full health for 2020 and is set to start every fifth day, I really think he can shine.
Having an opener can be a blessing and a curse as it isn’t a full-proof system. It can boost your odds by keeping the other team on their toes with the frequent subbing of pitchers, but it can also kill your bullpen. Especially if the manager has had to dip into his reserves a little too heavily in the previous games.
Johnson doesn’t need to go out there and throw 6+ innings, though I’m sure he’d love to, he just has to give the team a chance to win. If that means 4-5 innings and then turning the ball over to his pen mates, then that’s what needs to be done.
The righty isn’t on the 40-man roster at this point but with Chris Sale going down due to Tommy John surgery, there’s a vacancy with his name on it. At this point, we’re looking at a heavily condensed season as we’ve already lost close to a month of the 2020 campaign. This could also add to Johnson’s success for this season as it offers less opportunity for wear and tear on his body.
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None of us know when the season will get underway or what it’ll even look like once it does. It sounds like there will be another round of spring training to get everyone back into the swing of things before a regular-season can begin. This offers Roenicke and pitching coach Dave Bush the chance to tinker with the opener method and see what options they have.
Johnson has been in some big spots with the Red Sox and may have another big one coming in 2020. With a massive gap in the starting rotation, this is his chance to stake his claim as a starter for Boston. The Red Sox are generally more traditional with their pitching methodology but with things being very untraditional right now, it may be time for a change.
This season could be incredibly important for the future of the Red Sox. Not only will they most likely have to test out the opener method but we may see some player stepping up in a big way. I truly feel Brian Johnson can be a major asset to Boston this season and will be one of those to step up. Not only can he be a strong opener but he can also go deep into games when the bullpen needs a rest. I think this is his chance to not only earn his spot on the 40-man roster but to keep it for good.