FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Trivia question: Who was the only Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in 2017?Hint: The same person who just might break camp as the fifth starter this season.Answer: Left-hander Christopher Johnson, who has seemingly been on the cusp of graduating from prospect to Major League
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Trivia question: Who was the only Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in 2017?
Hint: The same person who just might break camp as the fifth starter this season.
Answer: Left-hander Christopher Johnson, who has seemingly been on the cusp of graduating from prospect to Major League contributor over the last several seasons, only to have something go wrong.
Now, Johnson is out of options, but also in position to at last prove his staying power.
Making his Grapefruit League debut in Sunday's 7-1 win over Baltimore, Johnson was crisp and in control, retiring all six Orioles batters he faced. He had two strikeouts and threw 25 pitches, 17 for strikes.
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"I think this is a big year, obviously, not just because I'm out of options, but just to prove myself," said Johnson. "I feel like I'm ready. I want to go out there and show them I'm ready."
Sunday's performance is the type that will make manager Alex Cora take note. Before the game, Cora confessed that he accidentally referred to Johnson as "Brad" in a meeting.
"Brian Johnson, he threw a [shutout] last year, the only [shutout] the Red Sox threw last year," said Cora. "First of all, I'm going to call him Brian, not Brad, like I called him in one meeting. His fastball plays. His breaking ball [is good], he can change speeds and he he has a pretty good idea of what he can do on the mound."
Johnson has a couple of things going for him at the moment.
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The first is that he's fully healthy. That has often not been the case in recent years.
The second is opportunity. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright, who are both coming off knee surgeries, won't be ready to start the season on time. That leaves open a vacancy for a fifth starter. If Cora decides to go in another direction for the fifth starter -- Roenis Elias and Hector Velazquez are also candidates -- Johnson is a lefty relief option.
Aside from Robby Scott, the Red Sox don't have any other southpaws projected to make the bullpen. Johnson could slide in nicely to that spot and offer the Red Sox some length, given he will be stretched out as a starter this spring.
It was back in 2012 that the Red Sox drafted Johnson with the 31st overall pick in the Draft out of the University of Florida. Almost immediately, there was a problem, as Johnson was struck in the face by a batted ball while pitching in the Futures at Fenway Game.
By 2015, Johnson made his Major League debut for the Red Sox at Houston, but he was a diminished pitcher, grinding through an elbow injury he didn't disclose to the team until later.
The next year, Johnson took a medical leave for anxiety.
Johnson was on his way back last season, throwing that nine-inning shutout at Fenway Park on May 27 against the Mariners. He was set to pitch again for the Red Sox a week later, only to be sidelined by a cramp in his right hamstring. Later in the season, Johnson developed shoulder fatigue.
But that is all in the past now. Johnson is ready for 2018 to be the one he sticks with Boston.
"If it's a starter or a reliever, I don't really care to be honest," Johnson said. "I just want to be on this team. Whatever it takes. It's just up in the air. If it's a starting spot, great. If it's out of the bullpen, great. I just want to be here and help out any way I can."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.