DETROIT -- Erik Johnson’s poise showed up again on Sunday afternoon.
With one of the pitcher’s most valuable assets readily available over his first four major league starts, it’s understandable why the White Sox are excited about Johnson’s future.
Six days after he recorded the first victory of his career, Johnson held the Detroit Tigers in check as the White Sox avoided a series sweep with a 6-3 victory at Comerica Park. Johnson helped the White Sox rebound from a historic loss in front of a loud sellout crowd as he scattered nine hits over 6 2/3 innings. With the help of fellow rookies Conor Gillaspie and Avisail Garcia, who each drove in two runs, the White Sox bounced back less than 24 hours after they blew a six-run, ninth-inning lead.
“It starts with the way Erik pitched,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s going against a tough lineup. He just kind of stayed out of trouble and when he needed a pitch he made it. It’s pretty good composure for a kid as young as him. Staying down in the zone and working down there.”
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Johnson is only 23 but he already has displayed the cool demeanor of a veteran in a number of dicey situations. He ended his first inning in the majors when he struck out Ichiro Suzuki at Yankee Stadium. The second-rounder also completed six innings that night despite running into trouble in the middle innings and kept the White Sox in the game.
On Sunday it appeared as if a 1-0 game could spiral out of control in the bottom of the fourth inning. Johnson surrendered a long solo home run to Prince Fielder and the lead to start the inning. Detroit, which scored five runs in 6 1/ 2 minutes on Saturday, then sandwiched singles by Victor Martinez and Alex Avila around an out to put runners on the corners and amp up the crowd.
But Johnson only needed three pitches to get out of trouble as Omar Infante lined out to third on an 0-1 curveball and Ramon Santiago grounded out to first base. Catcher Josh Phegley said Johnson used his curveball more effectively than he had in his first three starts. Johnson threw the curve 16 times, nine for strikes, per brooksbaseball.net.
“He knows he’s got some good stuff,” Phegley said. “He gets in trouble when he’s not hitting pitches for strikes and he falls behind. It’s not like people are out there crushing him left and right. He falls behind and gets into hitters counts. But he knows he can throw ‘em for strikes and he just stays confident. You can tell he doesn’t get rattled and he’s going to keep attacking hitters.”
Johnson retired seven of eight hitters through the sixth inning.
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He allowed three singles to load the bases with an out in the seventh but retired Austin Jackson on a sac fly. Donnie Veal then took over and retired Torii Hunter to keep the White Sox ahead 6-2.
Johnson struck out one and didn’t walk any.
“The biggest thing is to minimize and I did a good job minimizing the big situations,” Johnson said. “It’s an awesome opportunity and awesome experience I’m getting. The biggest thing for me is to always work ahead, always get that first strike over.”
The White Sox wasted no time giving Johnson the lead.
A two-out RBI single by Avisail Garcia -- who had three hits and had a diving catch to rob Fielder of a single -- put the Sox ahead 1-0 in the first inning.
Shortly after Fielder’s homer tied the game, the White Sox pulled back ahead in the fifth. Conor Gillaspie had a two-run triple to center and Garcia singled him in to give the White Sox a three-run lead. Jeff Keppinger also doubled in two runs in the seventh to give the White Sox a 6-1 lead.
Donnie Veal and Erik Lindstrom recorded the last seven outs for the White Sox, who need to go 2-5 the rest of the way to avoid 100 losses.