What Chicago White Sox Fans Should Take Away from Erik Johnson's First Start

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What Chicago White Sox Fans Should Take Away from Erik Johnson's First Start
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport
Erik Johnson's first start produced mixed results.

For those of us foraging for the smallest speck of Chicago White Sox sustenance, Erik Johnson’s debut against the New York Yankees on Wednesday evening was an exercise in feast-or-famine pitching.

Johnson went six innings, gave up five runs (three earned), walked three and struck out one in 104 pitches. He hung a curve ball to Robinson Cano for a solo home run, grooved a 3-0 pitch that Lyle Overbay smoked for a two-run double, had way too may 3-1 counts and committed a throwing error during the Yankees' four-run fourth inning.

On the other hand, he threw four frames with 15 pitches or less and struck out Ichiro Suzuki with the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning. Most impressively, Johnson came out after that disastrous fourth and needed only eight pitches to get through the fifth inning and 12 to get through the sixth.  

However, the White Sox have to be a little concerned about Johnson’s wildness, because it was out of character. Control is Johnson’s forte; he made a name for himself in the minors by commanding the strike zone with a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, an above-average slider and a well-balanced curve.   

Against the Yankees, unfortunately, that was not always the case. MLB.com's Scott Merkin noted, for example, that after retiring the first batter of the evening, Johnson went to a 3-1 count on four of the next five hitters. At one point in the first inning, 12 of 18 pitches were balls.

It was a laborious effort, to say the least.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

It would stand to reason that Johnson will get at least three or four more starts before the season is over, since White Sox manager Robin Ventura stated that they would be using "a modified six-man rotation" from here on out, per CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes. His next start should be against the Detroit Tigers.

While it is easier said than done, Johnson will have to put this start behind him the next time out. It is in his best interest to get back to basics and throw strikes. He will, after all, be given every opportunity to secure a spot as the No. 4 or No. 5 starter during spring training,

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After Chris Sale, John Danks and Jose Quintana, the 2014 rotation is anybody’s guess. Barring a free-agent acquisition, Hector Santiago, Charles Leesman, Andre Rienzo and Johnson will be the four primary candidates for the final two spots. But it's on Johnson to throw strikes.

So, what can White Sox fans take from his performance?

Well, Johnson did not appear to be intimidated or overwhelmed, which is always a plus for a young pitcher. He also responded well following challenging innings, but even though his fastball topped out at 95 mph and a couple of sliders looked filthy, he pitched too cautiously. 

Johnson’s reputation is built around throwing strikes, and if he wants to generate a little momentum going into the offseason, he would be wise to let loose and get the ball over the plate.

What Johnson’s first start proved is that he has moxie (which cannot be taught), he has the arm (which is a gift) and he has a few things left to learn.

I would expect that White Sox fans will see a marked improvement in the coming weeks.

 

 

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