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Johnson blanks Yanks, earns rotation spot

Final bench roles going down to wire; Pomeranz makes Minors start
March 23, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. -- The city of Lakeland, Fla., will be responsible for 40 percent of the Red Sox's starting rotation to open this season.Both Christopher Johnson and Chris Sale were born in the pitstop of an agricultural town just outside of Tampa on the way to Orlando on Interstate 4.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The city of Lakeland, Fla., will be responsible for 40 percent of the Red Sox's starting rotation to open this season.
Both Christopher Johnson and Chris Sale were born in the pitstop of an agricultural town just outside of Tampa on the way to Orlando on Interstate 4. Both grew up together and played in the same Little League in a city that soon could be known as much for sprouting Sox southpaws as it is for growing strawberries.
"I don't know, something in the water maybe," Johnson said of the city that also was the birthplace for Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon, Philadelphia's Andrew Hutchison, Chicago's Carson Fulmer and Baltimore's Alec Asher.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora officially announced Johnson will join Sale in the Boston rotation after a dominant performance in a 5-0 win over the Yankees on Friday. Johnson picked up his second victory of the spring after allowing just two hits in 4 2/3 shutout innings. He struck out a spring-high five while walking one.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"He understands who he is. He doesn't want to be Chris Sale or David Price or Thomas Pomeranz. He's just B.J.," Cora said. "He's going to change speeds and he understands that for him to be successful he has to pitch, and he's done a good job of that."
With injuries to Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez, Johnson, who is out of Minor League options, will be given every chance to showcase himself in either the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation to start the season.
"It feels great going out there knowing what I can do. A lot of it is out of my control, so just go out and do what I do every day and give the best effort I can," Johnson said. "In the beginning of the spring, I thought I was going to be in the bullpen. Who knows what will happen? It's crazy how this game works."
Despite his lofty projections as a prospect, injuries and other maladies have limited the 27-year-old to just six Major League starts. A former first-round pick out of the University of Florida in 2012, Johnson has the ability to be dominant when healthy, as evidenced by his 2.69 ERA in 103 Minor League games. Johnson didn't allow a run in four of his five starts this spring to finish his Grapefruit League season with a 1.72 ERA.
The Yankees trotted out their likely Opening Day lineup, albeit in a slightly altered order, on Friday. Johnson responded by striking out four of the first seven batters he faced -- Aaron Judge, who batted leadoff, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brandon Drury.
"He's been great the whole spring," Cora said. "It doesn't really matter who he faces as long as his fastball command is where it's supposed to be. If it's not there, he will struggle. If it's there, he'll be good."

Camp battles
Blake Swihart got the start in left field and went 1-for-5. Swihart, whose primary position is catcher, is on the roster bubble for one of the final bench spots. Boston has been testing out the versatility of Swihart, who is out of Minor League options, to justify keeping three catchers on the Opening Day roster.
The former first-round pick had an infield single against an exaggerated defensive shift in the fourth, but left six runners on base for the day.
"Whatever decision we make, it changes [the composition of the bench]," Cora said. "So, no, nothing is set for me right now."
• Despite a tremendous spring, Cora said that first baseman Sam Travis, originally in the mix for a bench spot, would likely start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Travis continued his torrid offense by hitting his team-leading sixth home run and driving in his 17th run on Friday.
"I've been saying the whole time that it takes more than 25 -- it takes more than 40 -- to win a World Series," Cora said. "We'll see what happens the next few days and throughout the year."
Injury updates
• Pomeranz, who is working his way back from a left forearm strain, pitched three innings in a Minor League game on the back fields of Fenway South on Friday. Even though the big lefty has made strides, Cora said that it isn't likely Pomeranz will be ready by the start of the regular season.
"We're keeping the door open, but the days are going quick," Cora said.
• Reliever Tyler Thornburg is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday morning. Thornburg is currently on schedule in his rehabilitation from right shoulder surgery but will start the season on the disabled list.
"He's very excited about it," Cora said. "At least he's competing against somebody and not against himself, so that is a good step for him."
• Rodriguez, who is trying to return from right knee surgery, will pitch in a Minor League game on Saturday.
Up next: The Red Sox will return home to JetBlue Park to host the Astros on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Opening Day starter Sale (1-0, 3.21 ERA) will make his final spring tuneup opposite right-hander Francis Martes. Richard Hembree and Brandon Workman are scheduled to pitch in relief for Boston. The game will be broadcast live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to