Portland pitcher Brian Johnson overcoming adversity
Johnson was pitching for the New York-Penn League's Lowell Spinners in 2012 when they took part in the Futures at Fenway Showcase, an annual event where two of Boston's minor league affiliates play at Fenway.Joey Rickard, the Hudson Valley Renegades' leadoff hitter, lined Johnson's second pitch up the middle and the ball struck the left side of Johnson's face. He suffered 16 orbital bone fractures, a ruptured retina, a broken nose and nerve damage.
Johnson, who is scheduled to start for the Portland Sea Dogs when they face the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester today, was done for the rest of the 2012 season. The injuries had a lingering effect as well.
"The injuries still played a factor (in 2013). Maybe not my face, but mentally. My first couple games it was go out there and don't get hit again - that was my mindset. It wasn't go out there and try to get a 'W' for my team. It was go out there and just don't get hit by a ball."
Johnson's first appearance during spring training last season was an interesting one. The hitter he faced? Rickard.
"I think he got a hit, to be honest," Johnson said. "I didn't even realize it was him. I just remember flinching really bad. At that point in time, if I didn't know where the ball went, I put my head down and my glove up. I'm pretty sure it was a single between short and third, because I remember (shortstop) Deven Marrero bringing the ball in and talking to me.''
Marrero: "It's over with."
Johnson: "What do you mean?"
Marrero: "That was the same kid."
Johnson, who throws left-handed, said it was several starts with Greenville last season before he felt comfortable on the mound again.
According to soxprospects. com, Johnson is Boston's ninth-best minor league prospect. He enters today's game with an 8-2 record and a 2.54 ERA in 13 starts since being called up to Portland.Johnson held the Fisher Cats to three hits in a seven-inning complete game when Portland posted a 5-2 triumph last weekend. He has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in all but one of his starts with the Sea Dogs. "In college I was never a full-time pitcher," Johnson said. "I'd pitch and then the next day go to first. I feel like I'm settling in and becoming who I want to be. It's all a learning process."
"I can't wait for that day to come," he said.
Kevin McGowan, a right-handed pitcher from Nashua, is 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA since he was promoted from Class-A Savannah, the New York Mets' affiliate in the South Atlantic League, to High-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League on June 19.
Franklin's Derrick Sylvester is 0-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five games with the Arizona (Rookie) League Dodgers. Sylvester, who played for Southern New Hampshire University, has pitched nine innings, all in relief.
Roger Brown covers baseball for the Sunday News and Union Leader. Email him at email@example.com.