DETROIT -- Erik Johnson’s second round of auditions continues to go well.
The young White Sox pitcher tied a career-high with nine strikeouts on Monday night in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Johnson picked up his third victory in four starts as the White Sox completed a sweep of the split-doubleheader with a 3-2 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Johnson allowed two runs in six innings and Jose Abreu doubled in a run and Gordon Beckham homered. Nate Jones and David Robertson combined for four strikeouts in three scoreless innings.
“(Johnson) threw great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think even when they got some guys on he was able to show some command. We got him some early runs and he was able to make it hold up.”
Johnson has done nothing in September to hurt his chances for the 2016 White Sox rotation. With Jeff Samardzija headed for free agency and the White Sox considering anything to upgrade their roster, Johnson could be in line for one of possibly two spots in the 2016 rotation.
Though he needed 114 pitches to complete six innings, Johnson was in control early and worked around some trouble in the middle before a strong finish. Johnson used a slider/fastball combination early as he struck out three, including Miguel Cabrera, and retired the first six batters he faced.
“It was hard, away early,” Johnson said. “We tried to go in for effect to a lot of their hitters, and then later in the game you started doubling up on sliders and getting away from sequences we used earlier in the game.
“I felt good. It was a good first inning to put the right foot forward, and I thought I was very aggressive in the zone with fastball, slider, change. I gave up a few hits. Sometimes the aggressiveness, you’re going to run into some hits here and there.”
The International League pitcher of the year left a fastball over the middle to Alex Avila and he homered to start the third inning. Johnson gave up two more singles and a sac fly to Ian Kinsler as Detroit rallied to within 3-2. But catcher Rob Brantly nailed Rajai Davis stealing second to end the inning with Miguel Cabrera at the plate.
Johnson then loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning but he struck out Josh Wilson on a 2-2 fastball above the letters to strand the trio.
Johnson retired seven of the last eight he faced, including four strikeouts.
He allowed five hits and walked two.
“Those two middle innings where they were long, it’s tough because you have to find the middle ground to where you’re aggressive in the zone, but you can put guys away early, to the point they’re not fouling off pitches and you’re not going into deep counts,” Johnson said. “Sometimes that’s where it leads to bigger innings or more pitches per inning. Sometimes in the middle you’ve just got to grind things out and you fall back into a nice rhythm.”
Trayce Thompson tripled to start the second inning and scored on Avisail Garcia’s sac fly against Randy Wolf. Beckham homered later in the second to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead. Tyler Saladino tripled with two outs in the third and Abreu doubled him in as the White Sox took a three-run lead.
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Johnson and his bullpen did the rest.
It was another impressive outing for Johnson late in an outstanding season as he continues to rebound from a poor 2014 campaign. Johnson had a similar season in 2013 that helped him win a job in the 2014 rotation but he only lasted five starts before he was demoted to Triple-A Charlotte.
“He’s aggressive in the zone and that’s been the biggest thing of coming back up here,” Ventura said. “He’s aggressive, coming after you and I think he has to pitch that way. It’s good to see.”