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Johnson reflects on journey, return to Mexico

@JesseSanchezMLB
March 10, 2019

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The last time D.J. Johnson was in Mexico, he was pitching for his baseball life. It was the winter of 2017 and when Los Mochis of the Mexican Pacific Winter League came calling, Johnson answered because he needed the experience and could use the income.

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The last time D.J. Johnson was in Mexico, he was pitching for his baseball life.

It was the winter of 2017 and when Los Mochis of the Mexican Pacific Winter League came calling, Johnson answered because he needed the experience and could use the income.

The right-hander is back in Mexico, but this time around, he’s working on earning a spot in the Rockies bullpen and securing his future. The mound at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey -- or any mound in Mexico -- never felt so good.

“I feel like I’m having a good spring, but that decision isn’t mine to make,” Johnson, 29, said. “I come out every day and try to work on things I need to work on and perfect what I can. I just want to showcase what I have every single day and put myself in a good position.”

Johnson has allowed only two hits in five scoreless innings this spring. On Saturday, he allowed only one hit while pitching the final inning of the Rockies' 5-1 victory against the D-backs in the first game of the Mexico Series.

"I'm seeing a lot of what we saw last year -- the fastball command, the good curveball, traditional curveball, coming out of the 'pen is a good weapon, the cutter,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “But a guy that is pitching. He's not a thrower.”

It’s been quite a journey to get to this point.

An undrafted free agent, Johnson signed with Rays in 2010 but was released less than a year later. He also spent time in the Minors with the D-backs, Twins and Angels before signing with the Rockies in 2016.

Johnson persevered in the Minors and was called up to the big leagues on Sept. 4. He would go on to pitch in seven games, make the postseason roster and later pitch in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Brewers.

“There were a lot of different stages that I had to go through, but over the last couple of years, I really came into my own,” Johnson said. “I’ve actually learned how to pitch, and I grew up a lot. Once I finally started taking this whole thing serious and realized that if I wanted to make this my career and provide for my family and fulfill my dream that I would have to turn it up a notch.”

If pitching is what Johnson does, being a father is who he is. He feels fortunate that he didn’t have to find a job pitching in the winter and could spend time at home with the family.

“I can’t get enough family time. We have four girls and all of them are amazing,” Johnson said. “I’m so blessed to have such an amazing support staff at home. My wife, especially, pushes me to be the best I can be.”

Johnson’s gentle nature was on display Saturday morning at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey when he joined his teammates and D-backs players at Major League Baseball’s Play Ball event for 150 youth players. The camp featured hitting and fielding drills, baserunning and agility workouts, and tons of laughter.

“It was so awesome to be there,” he said. “I wish they had Play Ball when I was a kid. I grew up Mariners fan and if the Seattle Mariners would have had something like that, I would have been the first one there. Being a role model is a huge honor and a huge blessing so I’m glad I was able to see the smiles on their faces.”

Twelve hours after the camp, Johnson was on the mound. He put on a good show, but he also knows there is still plenty of work to do if he wants to break Spring Training with the Major League club.

“He's right around 30, and hopefully starting a little bit of a big-league career,” Black said. “I like to see those stories. And he also knows nothing's going to be handed to anybody. He's got to pitch well. That's a thing where we talk about you sort of weigh the importance of spring, what you see, because you don't want to base everything on Spring Training. But you can't close your eyes to certain things that are going on."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.