SARASOTA, Fla. - Jim Johnson knew what was coming.
I approached his locker yesterday and asked about his spring training and whether he’s where he needs to be with opening day almost here.
“I’m pretty much where I need to be,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to (today) because this is the first part of the back-to-back. I’ve thrown, day off, thrown, day off, so I’ve been on a real heavy workload, which is what I’m used to. Gets me ready for the season.
“For the most part, I think everything’s where it needs to be. I just need to dial in a couple small things.”
Then, he acknowledged the elephant in the room.
“I know what you guys look at and it’s not what I see,” he said. “There’s other stuff that I’m trying to evaluate at the same time. I’m fine.”
Yes, Johnson was alluding to the radar gun readings and the dip in his velocity. Scouts have noticed it. Fans are obsessing over it. Reporters are reporting on it.
I decided to throw the fans under the bus by suggesting that they practically ordered me to his locker yesterday to check on him. Of course, I would have done it anyway, but you’re not here to defend yourselves.
“They think I must have sat at 97 mph all day, which is never the case,” Johnson said after chuckling at my velocity follow-up question.
“The one thing they forget is, velocity helps you get to the big leagues, but command makes you stay there. It’s like the third important thing. It flip-flops. To get to the big leagues, velocity is important, then command, then movement. Or movement and then command. In the big leagues, to stay here, you’ve got to have location, movement and then velocity, in that order. I’m more concerned with other things than what the scoreboard says. I read the bats. That’s the important part.”
So why has there been a drop in his velocity this spring? (No, I wouldn’t let it go. You’re welcome.)
“I’m trying to locate the ball more than anything else,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not like I’m trying to throw 40 percent or something. It’s not like I’m throwing half-speed. I’m throwing the ball like I’m supposed to. I know how the ball feels - like the famous ‘It’s coming out of my hand fine.’ “
Johnson’s fastball topped out at 94 mph Monday in Bradenton, below what he routinely hit last season, and was 90-91 mph Wednesday in Dunedin until his last pitch was clocked at 92 mph.
“You can watch every FOX game and they’ll add three mph to everybody’s fastball. You use a JUGS gun, it’s different than another gun,” he said.
“I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m just telling you the facts. You have 40 scouts or whatever and then you have a scoreboard gun that’s mounted. There are hot spots, there are balls that don’t get read. It’s all ... the gun is for the fans. I’m going off of swings, so I couldn’t care less. If I get outs, if I get ground balls ...
“The true thing to look from me is if you see a guy hitting a ground ball and the ball bounces within 10 feet of home plate, it’s a good pitch. That’s the eye test for you. If guys are hitting them right on the nose or right at people or hitting deep fly balls, then that means I’m not throwing the ball well. Sometimes, the ball moves better at 92 than it does at 96.”
Johnson was brought along slowly at the start of camp because of lower back discomfort, but he insists that he’s healthy. He’s 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in six Grapefruit League games, with four earned runs (five total), six hits, three walks and three strikeouts in six innings.
“It’s the walks that I’m the most upset with,” he said.
The good news concerning the walks is Johnson is missing down, with pitches that break late and aren’t chased by the hitters. He’d be more agitated if he was missing wide.
“I’m real close,” said Johnson, who’s scheduled to pitch today and Saturday. “I just need to get my work in.”