MESA, Ariz. — Erik Johnson and Mat Latos both pitched on Saturday and had mixed results as each right-hander vies to win a spot in the White Sox rotation coming out of spring training.
Johnson allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings against the Cubs at Sloan Park, and had his fastball sit between 85 and 89 miles per hour, according to a scout. He gave up a solo home run to Dexter Fowler on a fastball low in the zone, and said he’s still working on building up strength in his arm.
“I know I’m not there yet,” Johnson said. “Pitch count-wise I’m getting to where I need to be but as far as innings go, I’d like to achieve more than that. I know the stuff is there. I’m throwing strikes with all of my pitches. The arm strength will come along.”
Johnson felt like he was aggressive in the strike zone and threw some good offspeed pitches, but manager Robin Ventura said the 26-year-old fell behind in too many counts Saturday for those pitches to be effective.
“You can make quality pitches but if you’re doing it in a hitter’s count and it’s not perfect, you’re going to get hit a little bit,” Ventura said. “It’s a good lineup and you just gotta be better early.”
Latos allowed three runs over four innings of work in a B game against the Texas Rangers in surprise Saturday morning, though all three of those tallies came in the first inning (two on a home run).
An American League scout who watched Latos’ start told CSNChicago.com it was “pretty underwhelming,” though the right-hander said he was more concerned with commanding his fastball in the relatively laid-back setting of a B game.
“Most importantly I was worried about hitting my spots and hitting each side of the plate with my fastball,” Latos said. “The one big thing we had been working on in my side sessions was big today, able to keep the fastball to the side of the plate I wanted it to.
“Earlier in the game I threw a couple real nice two-seamers into some righties. (I) threw one that didn’t move at all, made that mistake and it got hit for a home run. But I settled in after that, everything came out of my arm, easy flow, go through the motions and making my pitches.”
Ventura was in attendance for Latos’ outing and said he was “alright,” though noted the 28-year-old ramped up his intensity after giving up those runs in the first inning.
“After that, the competition part in him came out, which is good,” Ventura said. “A good outing — B games are going to be a little tough to get going, I think once you get knocked around a bit it helps that.”
Latos said he wasn’t going to read into the outcome of his start, instead focusing more on how he felt.
“I could care less about the results,” Latos said. “Come April, I’ll care about the results. From the way it looked, the first inning cost me but the last three were really good.”
Johnson, Latos and right-hander Jacob Turner, who allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings in his only Cactus League start to date, are battling to win that final spot in the White Sox rotation. All three have had some level of success in the past (Latos had the most, with a 3.27 ERA from 2010-2014) but have struggled in recent years.
The White Sox have a little over three weeks until Opening Day, with each of those three pitchers getting plenty of opportunities to stake their claim to a gig in the starting rotation. Saturday’s games were just one part of the evaluation process for Ventura, Don Cooper & Co.
“You have to go out there and pitch well,” Ventura said, answering a question about what Johnson has to do to make the team. “There’s a chance you’re going to make the team, but you just gotta pitch well.”