Cody Johnson knows the impression he makes on people who’ve seen him play for a while: He either strikes out or hits a home run. He’d just prefer not to read about it.
“I try not to read anything. It’s hard to take anything good or bad from it,” he said.
“You’re either going to feel great or you’re going to be mad, so if you try and just ignore it and do what you do every day, you’ll be better off.”
Johnson, still just 23 years old, is a big man with big expectations. 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the Southport, Fla. native can send the ball a country mile with a simple flick of his wrists. But, all too often, a seemingly all-or-nothing approach provided way too much of the latter. The former first round pick of the Braves has hit no fewer than 17 home runs in each of his past five seasons, but also has an astounding 823 strikeouts in 2,284 career at-bats.
“I know what I am…well, I know what I have been,” said the friendly Floridian. “I’m trying to almost re-create myself and change my whole approach. It’s been a slow process. I can’t expect results overnight, but I just have to take what opportunities the Yankees give me this year and do the best I can with it.”
Johnson started the 2011 season as the Thunder’s five-hole hitter and everyday DH. He ended it in Tampa. Although he smashed 15 home runs and got hot at times with Trenton, he also batted just .226 for a team that needed much more from him. The transformation of Cody Johnson started last season, when he says he started to change his approach both mentally and physically. But things went downhill, he says, when the embarrassing incident involving Julius Matos took place.
“I felt like I really lost track when we had the situation go down where we lost our hitting coach, and it was kind of hit or miss from there on out,” he said.
“When I got sent down, I was just glad to still have a job. I went down and got things worked out. I was in Tampa for six weeks, and felt like I really got things turned around out and started the off-season on a good note. I kind of spent the off-season trying to get in better shape and basically focus on what I ended the year doing and try to come back into spring training and pick up where I left off, and pretty much start back over. I felt like I had a pretty good spring, and hopefully I can have a pretty good season.”
To have that good season, Johnson must cut down on his strikeouts, which whether he wants to read about it or not, is a simple statistical fact. 194 strikeouts were a career high for him last season, but his third trip to Double-A very well could be the charm if he can practice what he preached at Media Day.
“Mentally, it’s just knowing what pitchers are going to do me and sticking with one game plan,” he said. “It’s not getting out of that and just staying in the strike zone, that’s the biggest thing. I chased a lot of pitches, and it’s staying in one zone. If I don’t get certain pitches, hey if a guy can locate on me for three pitches, I’ll tip my hat and turn around and sit down and just have to kind of sit there and wait for a mistake.”
Curiously, some of Johnson’s success at the plate may be a direct result of what he does while he’s out in the field. Johnson played in 74 contests for Trenton last season, but was the designated hitter for all but three of them. If he can get some playing time in the outfield, he says, it could help him clear his mind at-bat.
“I spent the off-season trying to get myself in shape to be where I know I can play in the field, and I spent spring training proving that I can play the field, at least to myself,” Johnson said.
“I’m just trying to give Tony another option for me. I really took DH’ing for granted last year, I just thought it was going to be easy. But it’s really a role that’s really hard. When you’re going good, it’s easy. You just sit there, you go up, you take your at-bat and you’re feeling great. But when you’re going bad, it’s frustrating, because all you do is go sit on the bench and you walk around and you get frustrated. You think too much. You get out in the outfield, you might get out there and be mad at yourself, but you’ve kind of got to separate that and focus because you have to pay attention and play defense. It kind of gives you that separation there. I started getting the hang of things at the end of the year and I learned it a little bit better, so if that’s my role, I’ll take it and do the best I can with it.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com // Twitter: Mashmore98