— Cody Johnson may very well be the best story in the Eastern League this year. He went from a 2011 season in which he struck out nearly once every two at-bats and earned a July demotion to High-A Tampa to a year in which he has more home runs this month (9) than any of his teammates do all season, has cut down his K rate substantially and is hitting .276 on the year.
Johnson sent another ball into orbit on Thursday night, working SeaWolves starter Zack Segovia into a favorable count and then taking him deep to right for his 14th home run of the season en route to an 11-0 massacre of Erie. Johnson has done a great job this season of working counts, even if it isn’t exactly his approach out there.
“I’m not trying to get ahead, I’m trying to hit the first pitch I see,” said Johnson through his trademark laugh.
“I want to hit the first strike he throws me, I don’t like working deep counts. I’m looking to hit a first pitch fastball or something early in the count. He threw me what I felt was a ball on 3-1, so in hindsight I’m glad he called it a strike. Then, he just threw me a slider over the middle of the plate.”
The home run comes after a few days after a Richmond road trip in which Johnson went 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts. This year, that’s a slump. Last year, that felt more typical. The transformation of the former first rounder — still just 23 years old — continues.
“I’ll take (home runs) when I can get them, I had a rough stretch for a couple of days,” he said. “I’ll take solid contact. In Richmond, I didn’t change anything. For me, that’s just one of those places where I struggle. I don’t see the ball well there, and it is frustrating…but I wasn’t going to change anything just because of that, and I knew I’d come out of it at some point. I get mad about strikeouts a lot. I think I put three balls in play the three games I played there. But I wasn’t really mad. I stayed with it and stayed with the same approach.”
— Were it not for yet another mammoth blast by his teammate, Brett Marshall would have been the story. The 22-year-old righty shut Erie down through six innings, allowing just six hits to put together his fourth scoreless start in his last five outings. Considered to be the top prospect on the team, he’s allowed just three runs in his last 35 innings, which works out to a 0.77 ERA.
“Is that good,” Marshall jokingly asked reporters.
“I’m just throwing the ball really well right now. I’ve been working really hard in the bullpens and I’m trying to get my consistency going since the beginning of the year. I’m trying to keep the ball down and get a lot of ground balls, and I think that’s been the key.”
Marshall acknowledged that this isn’t even as good as he’s been in his young professional career, once putting together a stretch of seven starts allowing only two runs and not a single walk after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Another number was lacking tonight, and that was strikeouts…he “only” whiffed two SeaWolves batters.
“I should have had a few more strikeouts tonight,” he said. “I get to two strikes and I maybe missed on a few pitches or maybe I should have put a ball in the dirt. That’s what I’m still trying to work on, there were a couple two strike pitches I should have had tonight. But I’ll take a ground ball over a walk any day of the week.”
— Prior to the game, Melky Mesa left the club to head to Tampa. He’ll be playing in extended spring training games, and it’s a clear sign that his shoulder soreness has dissipated to the point to where he’ll be able to re-join the ballclub shortly.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com