MINNEAPOLIS — Erik Johnson is back, and the White Sox intend to see what he can bring to the table in his second go-around.
Johnson is one of four players who was promoted (three from Triple-A Charlotte) when rosters expanded to 40 players on Tuesday along with catcher Rob Brantly and utility man Leury Garcia. Frankie Montas, the team’s top pitching prospect, also was promoted from Double-A Birmingham, and both he and Johnson are expected to start in the bullpen.
But, general manager Rick Hahn identified Johnson — who was demoted to Charlotte after five starts in 2014 despite entering 2014 as the club’s No. 2 prospect — as the first in line to get a start this month. Early Tuesday, Johnson was named the International League pitcher of the year.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Hahn said. “No matter what happens here over the next few weeks, he’s already had a great year, unlike last year where it started out rough and he’s sort of playing catch up. He’s already accomplished a great deal in 2015 and should head into the offseason with a great deal of confidence and the feeling that he’s very much back in the mix in being part of a major league rotation in 2016.”
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Johnson started 2014 in the rotation but posted a 6.46 ERA in five starts and was demoted. He never made it back even though the team struggled all season and finished with 89 losses, sliding off the prospect map almost altogether.
But Johnson arrived at spring training with a desire “to make moves,” and he’s done that all season.
Had it not been for an extremely healthy season from the White Sox starting rotation, Johnson would have been here earlier as he went 11-8 with a 2.37 ERA and struck out 136 batters in 132 2/3 innings at Charlotte. He was the starting pitcher for the International League in the Triple-A All-Star Game and has been dominant.
Johnson said the key has been identifying a routine and sticking to it.
“It was just learning how my body works the best,” Johnson said. “Just knowing and going through your routine and really getting to know your arm, your body and how you can attack.
“Routine is the biggest thing that leads you to predictability. For me, I know it’s almost a soothing feeling where I can go do my routine and get what I need to get done, so I feel prepared and I feel ready for that fifth day. It’s almost like knocking down dominoes.”
Both Hahn and White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Johnson’s routine over the final month could include several starts. Ventura is curious to see how Johnson responds though the White Sox will have to pick and choose spots.
“We’d of course like to get him an opportunity to start at some point,” Ventura said. “Hopefully more than one.
“There’s not probably much of a difference as how we look at it as he looks at it. He’d like another shot at it, see where he’s at.”
Johnson has a pretty good idea where he is and feels ready for any opportunity the White Sox throw at him. He’s felt good all season and looks forward to showing it off at the MLB level.
“It wasn’t one specific game,” Johnson said. “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.”