Last fall, Brian Johnson’s future with the Red looked uncertain. The left-hander was outrighted off Boston’s 40-man roster in November and was subsequently demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket coming off a disappointing 2019 campaign.
Over 21 appearances (seven starts) and 40 1/3 injury-riddled innings pitched last season, Johnson posted an ERA of 6.02, an ERA+ of 80, a FIP of 5.32, and a WHIP of 1.88, all the worst marks of his major-league career since 2017.
Because of those poor results, it’s somewhat understandable why Johnson, who turned 29 in December, lost his spot on the Sox’ major-league roster. Despite all the turmoil he went through during the offseason though, the Florida native received an invite to big league spring training and put up solid numbers in Grapefruit League play.
Prior to the pandemic-induced shutdown in March, Johnson looked like a potential rotation option for Boston in the wake of the team losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery and David Price in a trade with the Dodgers.
Flash forward about four months later, and that much still holds true for Johnson now, as the former Florida Gator got the start opposite fellow left-hander Kyle Hart in the Sox’ intrasquad game at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.
Working three scoreless, no-hit innings against the Away Sox, Johnson walked one and fanned another while 24 of the 38 total pitches he threw on the day went for strikes.
Following his first in-game action since March 10, Johnson had plenty to say to reporters via Zoom, starting with what went down over the winter.
“It kind of gives you a chip on the shoulder,” he said regarding getting taken off the Sox’ 40-man roster. “A little bit of extra motivation.”
Johnson missed time on the injured list on two separate occasions in 2019. The first stint began in early April, ended in early June, and was caused by inflammation in his left elbow. The second stint began later that month, lasted until the beginning of August, and was related to a “non-baseball related medical matter.”
“That really wasn’t me at times,” the former-first round pick said Sunday when reflecting on his 2019 season. “I get it. My numbers weren’t good. But I wasn’t expecting to be taken off the roster.”
He was ultimately taken off Boston’s 40-man roster in the offseason, but as previously mentioned, Johnson has worked his way back into a position where he could potentially be the club’s No. 4 starter to open the 2020 season in two weeks.
“We really liked the way he threw the ball today,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said of the lefty’s outing on Sunday. When asked if he sees Johnson as the club’s No. 4 starter, Roenicke responded by saying, “Yes, I do. We all do.”
Assuming left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez misses the start of the season, the Sox’ starting rotation will likely look something like this to begin things later this month:
2. Martin Perez
3. Ryan Weber
4. Brian Johnson
Johnson has been through plenty both on and off the field since joining the Red Sox organization in 2012. In a season that will be full of question marks surrounding Boston’s pitching staff, Johnson would be an easy figure to pull for as he aims to redeem himself.
Of course, as a non-roster invitee at Summer Camp, Johnson would need to be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster before Opening Day.