Erik Johnson’s first two outings didn’t give White Sox manager Robin Ventura a chance to properly evaluate the young right-hander.
A combination of shoddy defense, high pitch counts and zero offense limited Johnson’s chances of pitching competitively.
But White Sox catcher Bryan Anderson knows all about the team’s top pitching prospect after he caught him a half-dozen times at Triple-A this season.
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Even though Johnson picked up his first major league win in a 12-1 White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, Anderson said the rookie pitcher has only started to show his ability. Johnson struck out eight in six shutout innings.
“That was only a little sample of what his real potential is,” Anderson said. “Most nights, his slider/cutter is really effective and his changeup is usually pretty good, too. (Monday) we mostly stuck with fastball, curveball. All four of his pitches are really good and he doesn’t give in.”
The never-say-die attitude suited Johnson in the first inning.
He looked to be right back where he started when Gordon Beckham committed a first-inning throwing error on a sure double play. Instead of turning two, Johnson had a man at second with one out courtesy of the team’s sixth error behind him in three starts.
But Johnson shook off the miscue and a walk to Trevor Plouffe -- his second of the inning -- with consecutive strikeouts of Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham.
Even though the White Sox followed Johnson’s artful escape with a seven-run rally in the bottom of the first inning -- their biggest first inning since April 21, 2002 -- Johnson said the “zero” he put up was critical. Johnson had allowed first-inning runs in each of his previous two starts.
“For me it was getting that zero in the top of the first,” Johnson said. “That kind of set the rhythm.”
While it wasn’t a world-record pace, Johnson was pretty impressive the rest of the way.
Starting with the two strikeouts to end the first, Johnson set down 16 of the next 18 batters he faced.
He pitched around jams in the third inning and in the sixth inning to keep his shutout intact, enough to give Ventura a decent sample size of Johnson’s potential.
He had shown signs in his first two starts and has more work to go, but Ventura is pleased with what he has seen from Johnson, who went 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in the minors this season.
“He needs to attack the strike zone a little bit more,” Ventura said. “There's things to get better at, but overall it's good. When you don't give up any runs and you're kind of making your way through a lineup, that's improvement. I think we've played a little bit better behind him, but there's good stuff there.”
Johnson agrees with his manager, noting he’s happy to get the first victory out of the way.
“It’s one under your belt so now you can take a deep breath and go back to work,” Johnson said.
If the evidence he witnessed in the minors can be replicated up here, Anderson likes what the White Sox have in Johnson, who went 18-8 with a 2.21 ERA in 43 career minor-league games (41 starts). Anderson said Johnson doesn’t shy away from challenging hitters when he’s in jam. In that all important first inning, Johnson blew Arcia away with a 94-mph fastball at the letters.
“When you get in trouble you stick with a guy’s strength and it worked out,” Anderson said. “It worked out (in the minors) pretty well and it worked out (Monday). He’s a competitor. It’s nice.”