CINCINNATI -- The Reds were assembling their list of potential pitching coaches to work under new manager David Bell when they learned that Derek Johnson had a brief window in his deal with the Brewers that enabled him to speak with other clubs.
"When we became aware of that window, he immediately moved to the top of our list and became our focus," Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams said.
On Friday, Williams formally announced that Johnson was Cincinnati's new pitching coach. The deal came together quickly as Williams, Bell and general manager Nick Krall flew to Nashville on Tuesday to meet in person with Johnson. A deal was reached on Wednesday.
The Reds not only topped Milwaukee with an undisclosed significant offer, the closer proximity of Cincinnati to Johnson's hometown of Nashville was another incentive to make the move.
"This was opportunity for me to see what was out there," Johnson, 47, said. "It didn't take very long -- but from the beginning of it the Reds were very persistent. They made me feel extremely comfortable. They made me feel extremely wanted. At the end of day, it felt like this was the right move for my family and I."
With the Brewers and despite not having what would be considered a "true ace" as they went to the National League Championship Series in 2018, Johnson worked with several starting pitchers who enjoyed success. That includes Wade Miley and Giovany Gonzalez, who became free agents this week, along with developing fellow starters Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson and reliever Josh Hader.
From 2002-12, Johnson was the pitching coach at Vanderbilt University and had 13 of his pitchers reach the Major Leagues -- including David Price and Sonny Gray. During the 2013-15 season, Johnson was the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator.
The Brewers exceeded expectations under Johnson's watch, ranking eighth of the 30 MLB teams with a 3.94 ERA over the past three seasons. He will take over a pitching staff that ranked 14th out of 15 National League clubs during 2018 with a 4.63 ERA. Cincinnati's rotation was also 14th with a 5.02 ERA and .274 opponents' batting average and led the NL with 151 home runs allowed.
"Offensively, I always felt like they were where they needed to be in a lot of cases and then the pitching side of things, I looked over and saw some guys who I thought had some really good arms that were about ready to make a jump," Johnson said. "From my perspective, I think the sky's the limit. There's a good collection of people that can make some improvements. From my end, it's probably starting on a basic philosophy of the direction that we want to go, who we are and then what we're going to try to do. I think that's probably the first steps you're going to see in Spring Training."
Johnson hopes to develop the strengths of the Reds' pitchers already with the club and help them improve.
"I've got this saying, 'Be great at what you're good at.' You can go into a lot of detail on that, but the gist of this is each one of these guys come to us with good strengths," he said. "That's why they're in the Major Leagues. That's why they are a Major League pitcher or they're close to being one. In my mind, we spend way too much time trying to kind of develop the things that they're not or the things that they don't have as opposed to trying to develop the things they're already good at. To me, that's a separator."
For the Reds to lure free-agent pitchers to sign with their club, having someone as respected as Johnson run the staff can't hurt their chances.
"I certainly hope that it contributes," Williams said. "I certainly hope it adds value. I know that his reputation among players is very strong. We were able to talk to guys that played under him in college and in the big leagues. They really believe in him."
Bell knew Johnson from when they both worked for the Cubs. He is the first hire for the new coaching staff.
"I'm just thrilled to have Derek be the first step to us putting together our staff," Bell said. "Obviously, a very important member. To have this rare opportunity kind of out of the blue to get somebody like Derek is a great start. It came up, and we were able to go get him."
Reds name international scouting director
Cincinnati also hired Trey Hendricks on Wednesday to be its new director of international scouting. Hendricks comes to the Reds from the Rangers, where he spent 2018 as their international crosschecker.
From 2012-17, Hendricks worked as a pro and advance scout for the Indians. A former corner infielder and outfielder, he was a 24th-round Draft pick for the D-backs in 2004 out of Harvard University. He played professionally in Arizona's farm system and internationally in Australia and Germany.