E. Johnson finding ways to contribute to Braves
ATLANTA -- Second baseman Elliot Johnson was denied extra bases when Padres center fielder Will Venable ranged into the left-center-field gap to make a diving grab in the first inning on Saturday night, making it halfway to second base before he turned for the Braves' dugout in disbelief.
The next morning, Johnson took little consolation from the fact that Venable has spent all year turning heads with highlight-reel plays, or that Johnson himself had robbed Venable of an infield single with a nifty glove-flip on a slow roller in the third inning of Friday's series opener.
Since Johnson was claimed off waivers from the Royals on Aug. 21, he has impressed with a handful of slick plays at multiple spots in the field and produced enough at the plate to earn regular playing time from manager Fredi Gonzalez. After hitting just .179 with 49 strikeouts and an OPS of .458 in 79 games in Kansas City, Johnson entered Sunday with a .259 average, an OPS of .657 and five steals in his first 19 games with the Braves.
"This is pretty much what I do," Johnson said. "Steal a base here and there, play some good defense, and offensively, I'll hit some balls hard, and sometimes they dive and catch it, and sometimes they fall in. That's just kind of the way it is, so minimize my strikeouts and I'll be able to be a serviceable player at this level."
On Friday, he followed the quick flip to retire Venable with arguably an even more impressive play a few innings later, ranging deep in the hole to haul in Chris Denorfia's cue shot up the middle and firing a strong throw to first that left Denorfia crouched in dismay up the first-base line. Both defensive plays caught Gonzalez's eye in a losing effort.
"He's showing some athleticism out there at second base," Gonzalez said. "When we got him, [Royals manager] Ned Yost told me that this guy's a pretty good second baseman, and so far, he's really been dead on."
On Sunday, Johnson was tabbed for his seventh consecutive start, having earned the majority of playing time at second as Dan Uggla has struggled to get comfortable following LASIK surgery in August. Each game Johnson sees time offers the 29-year-old utility man a chance to find new ways to contribute and keep himself in the lineup one way or another down the stretch.
"I'm getting plenty of opportunity here," Johnson said. "It's my job to make the most of it. I'm not really sure what exactly there is long-term, so I show up, and if my name's in the lineup, then I'll help the team win today and take it from there. Every day that you get an opportunity to play is an opportunity to showcase what you can do and potentially further your career and come up with building trust and other things of that nature with the skipper."