MINNEAPOLIS -- Need, not performance, has prevented Erik Johnson from starting for the White Sox this season. With the entire White Sox starting rotation healthy for all of 2015, there have been no vacancies for Johnson to fill despite a stellar season at Triple-A Charlotte.
But Johnson -- named the International League pitcher of the year on Tuesday -- finally gets an opportunity to start for the White Sox in Sunday’s series finale at the Kansas City Royals.
Formerly the No. 63 prospect in all of baseball and No. 2 within the organization, Johnson rebounded from a poor 2014 campaign by going 11-8 with a 2.37 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings for Charlotte this season. Though he had plenty of doubters, Johnson has been confident since before spring training he would bounce back.
“I was very optimistic,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t one specific game. It wasn’t one specific catch or bullpen. It was just kind of getting to know and making adjustments, whether it’s during the game or if it’s midweek, where I can make some adjustments before my next start. Just being able to recognize something that might have come up last game that I need to address and just be ready for the next time out.”
Coming off a strong 2013 season, Johnson began 2014 in the major league rotation but lasted only five starts as he walked 15 batters in 23 2/3 innings and finished with a 6.46 ERA. He posted a 6.73 ERA in 20 starts at Charlotte and never returned to the big leagues.
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But Johnson, 25, came to big league camp upbeat and put himself back on the team’s map. Had Thursday’s starter Jeff Samardzija been traded before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline or if any other pitcher had gone on the disabled list, the former second-round draft pick would have been Rick Hahn’s first option.
“I actually told that to Erik directly when I saw him (Tuesday),” Hahn said. “I said, ‘Look from your perspective it’s probably a problem. From our perspective it’s a good problem to have and that’s that guys were able to take the ball every fifth day. If we had needed him at some point to make a start or if a guy had gone on the DL, he was absolutely toward the top of that list. He’s had an excellent year.”
With Johnson starting Sunday, the White Sox have moved Chris Sale’s next outing back to Monday afternoon at home against the Cleveland Indians.