SOX ON DECK: Kris Johnson pitches Portland to victory

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SOX ON DECK: Kris Johnson pitches Portland to victory

Chalk up Thursday night’s 2-0 victory over the Connecticut Defenders to another impressive start by one of the Portland Sea Dogs’ young pitchers.

The young pitcher in this case was 25-year-old Kris Johnson, who’s rated by Baseball America as Boston’s No. 4 pitching prospect - behind talents like Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden.

Johnson (6-3) worked the first six innings and blanked Connecticut on two hits and two walks, and added four strikeouts.

“He’s a three-pitch guy (fastball, curveball and change-up) and has command of all three of them,” said manager Arnie Beyeler said. “He was a little up in the zone with his breaking ball. But the change-ups were good and he really located the fastballs when he needed to in order to get into counts.

“He pounds the zone and makes guys earn what they get.”

How well has Johnson been pounding the zone lately?

This well:

  • He’s 3-0 with a no-decision over his last four starts, and his ERA is a microscopic 0.76.
  • After this outing, he’s tossed 17 consecutive scoreless innings.
  • Johnson hasn’t allowed a home run in his last 55 1/3 innings.

Johnson also gives the impression he has a smooth delivery as opposed to a pitcher who has a “funky” motion.

“He’s an easy-arm guy,” said Beyeler. “That’s why he commands the baseball. He throws easy. He’s got a good feel for pitching. And he can throw any pitch in any count.”

After Johnson’s night was done, T.J. Large, Chad Rhoades and Beau Vaughan each worked one inning on one-hit relief. But each inning was an adventure.

After Large retired the first two Defenders in the seventh, Adam Witter walked and Carlos Sosa doubled him to third. But Large fanned Simon Klink.

With a runner on first and two outs in the eighth, Ryan Rohlinger ripped a pitch by Rhoades that appeared headed down the left-field line for a double - until Ryan Khoury made a diving catch.

“Ryan’s a young guy who plays hard every night,” said Beyeler. “He’s kind of like our (Dustin) Pedroia-type guy down here. He can play second, short and third and you’re going to get an
effort from him.”

Finally, in the ninth, Vaughan easily retired the first two batters before Witter doubled and Sosa walked. But Vaughan caught Klink looking at a third strike for his eighth save.

The Sea Dogs got off to a fast start when Bubba Bell led the first inning with a single off Garrett Broshuis (6-6) and raced home on Zach Daeges’ two-out double to left-center. But that was all the offense Portland could muster off Broshuis until the seventh because, over the next five innings, he held the Sea Dogs to a mere three hits.

Portland finally added a big insurance run in the seventh.

Aaron Bates cracked a leadoff double to left-center but was forced to hold at third on a line single to right by John Otness.

Khoury then bounced into a force at second which allowed Bates to trot home.

EXTRA BASES: Khoury also made a nice “pick” on a tricky grounder by Olmo Rosario in the first to deny a Defender another hit … Bell, who was 3-for-5, has hit safely in 17 of his last 21 games at a .340 clip (32-94) … Daeges, who began play mired in a .186 slump (8-for-43) over his last 11 games, was 2-for-4.

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