It's not exactly a novel concept, but for Erik Johnson getting ahead in the count keyed his turnaround Tuesday night.
In his previous two starts this season, Johnson allowed 19 hits and 11 runs over just 10 1/3 innings. It wasn't a coincidence that Johnson threw first-pitch strikes to less than 50 percent of opposing batters over those two outings.
Tuesday night against Boston, Johnson threw a first-pitch strike to 60 percent of Red Sox hitters. And with that came one of the better outings he's had in his short major league career: 6 2/3 innings, one run, three hits, two walks, and a career-high nine strikeouts.
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"I think his confidence was definitely there," catcher Tyler Flowers said. "And that happens when you have the ability to throw strike one, hitters get a little more defensive and they're a little less aggressive as far as trying to drive balls."
Getting ahead in the count opened plenty of doors for Johnson, who was able to mix in his two- and four-seam fastballs with an effective slider and curveball throughout the night. Johnson didn't make any significant adjustments leading up to his Tuesday start -- "no new pages in the book," he said -- but instead was able to refine a few things that helped him throw more strikes.
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"It just came out of his hand, last night it was crisper," manager Robin Ventura said. "Some guys like pitching in the cold and letting it go. It looked like he had some zip on it with a good curveball when he needed it, movement when he needed it, and to hit the corners. That stuff is always is important just for his own mindest."
It was the kind of start the White Sox hoped to get out of Johnson in his first full season in the majors. He threw with aggression and confidence, the combination of which got Johnson to the majors in the first place. And while it's just one start, the way Johnson went about his work on Tuesday offered encouragement for the White Sox going forward.
"For him to pitch like that and like we’ve seen him in the past it’s always a good step to do that," Ventura said.