For right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson, the start of the season this year has been quite different than last season.
The kid from Baltimore was 3-6 with an ERA of 6.14 in his first 17 starts for Double-A Bowie last year as he battled issues with control and his pitching mechanics.
But he had a solid second half last summer and then further retooled his mechanics this winter and it looks like it is all paying off for him now.
He is 4-1 with an ERA of 2.02 in eight Bowie starts after pitching eight innings of one-hit ball on Monday against Richmond. He has given up just 31 hits over 49 innings with 13 walks to 48 strikeouts. He has allowed just 11 earned runs for the Baysox and five of those came in one outing.
“He is pitching better down in the zone than he did for us last year,” Bowie pitching coach Kennie Steenstra said. “He’s got a little zip on the fastball that gets up on guys sometimes and he gets a lot of fly balls as a result of that. Overall, he has pitched better for us than he did at this point last year.”
Johnson has pitched to a 1.33 ERA in four home starts and right-handed batters are hitting just .147 off him. Steenstra said the change for Johnson with his mechanics has helped a great deal.
“I definitely think that has helped him. He’s been able to get his (throwing) hand in a better position this year,” Seenstra said. “Last season, he kind of wrapped the ball behind him. It was, I don’t want to say, Rick Sutcliffe-like, but kind of a little bit of a wrap that made it hard to get the ball down in the zone at times. He worked hard at that over the winter.”
Steenstra said it might have been hard at times last season for Johnson to try to overcome some of those rough, early-season outings.
“There were mechanical issues and you mix in getting off to a slow start and sometimes it’s hard to get over that,” Seenstra said. “The mental aspect does come in because you are pressing over some bad starts and you try to get it all back in one or two starts. He might have been pressing a bit at times then.”
But now, Johnson has worked to an ERA of just 1.29 over his last three starts, allowing just nine hits in 21 innings with 17 strikeouts.
Johnson made two starts for Triple-A Norfolk in April, giving up nine runs in 7 2/3 innings. He may well get another crack at that level this season.
Right now that rotation is crowded now that Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken and Mitch Atkins have all recently joined the Tides. But Johnson seems to be doing his part to get noticed and put himself in line for a promotion when and if an opening up above makes that possible.
To read more on Johnson: When I interviewed Steve in March, he talked about his mechanics adjustments and his excited outlook for this season.