White Sox Lose In Erik Johnson's Debut

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Erik Johnson's debut for the White Sox went off with plenty of hitches, but that's not to say there wasn't anything to like.

For most of the evening, it looked like this game would fall into the "Sox never get close, lose badly" narrative bin. All the pieces were there. Uneven, skittish major league debut, rough defense, ugly approaches at the plate. But the Sox flipped the script to a rare "Sox good hitting not enough to overcome pitching" reading.

Perhaps that's not so surprising. Major league pitching debuts are typically plagued by nerves. Sometimes, guys are jumpy and ramped up.  Velocity ticks up well above the scouting reports, command comes and goes and usually the results are okay. Overthrowing can get enough bad contact and whiffs to get you through that first one.

Erik Johnson didn't seem to get the velocity boost--Sickels says he usually works 91-94--but he did see his command jump around on him in his major league debut. Combined with the usual Sox defense and hitting and there wasn't much chance to get him the W.

While there were a few instances of coulda-shoulda defense, the most costly gaffe was Johnson's own throwing error in the bottom of the fourth. After an A-Rod single, Ichiro's swinging bunt was fielded cleanly by the pitcher. But Johnson lofted a softy to Keppinger at first rather than firing it confidently, perhaps betraying a bit of his inner monologue. The subsequent barrage put the Yankees ahead for good.

The Sox never really looked like much on offense against CC Sabathia, which is not to say he looked unhittable. Other than Avisail Garcia's nice piece of hitting--an oppo double in the first to score Beckham--there wasn't much to love. Even Marcus Semien's first major league hit came after a fairly rough approach left him down in the count. He bailed himself out by reaching well off the plate for a fastball and dumping it into right.

But just when it looked like they'd go quietly into that good night, the Sox suddenly got right at the plate. Down 6-1 with two on, Garcia locked in a good evening with a seeing eye single that scored Alexei. But the really encouraging stuff came next. Dayan Viciedo took a close 3-2 fastball and got on base with a walk to load the bases and Josh Phegley hung tough and ripped a single that scored two. Semien did the same and the Sox had done enough to incur the Wrath of Rivera.

That went predictably, but it was nice to see fight from the Sox. All the more so seeing as it was from guys on the right side of 27 years of age.

And of course, the real reason for watching at all was Erik Johnson. The results weren't great and very likely his mental process wasn't what it normally is. Making a major league debut is a big deal and takes a toll. All I really wanted to see was stuff and moxie. Johnson showed both.

Recalling Andre Rienzo's first start, he seemed very eager to feature his curveball early. Unlike Rienzo, he really never found it and ended up farther behind in the count than he might have been otherwise. Then again, neither his slider nor fastball were reliably where he wanted them. But whatever: given the circumstances it's the stuff that counts. His slider flashed plus, particularly when he got some depth on it. The fastball had life and looked very useful. He worked from 91-95, though the velo faded a bit toward the end of the outing. The curve, when he finally got around on it, was 12-6, if not especially hard breaking.

It's pretty easy to like the stuff. He just needs to start figuring out how to pitch at this level. We've seen similar early returns from guys like Gavin Floyd and John Danks.  Experience and a little poise will go a long way, as will the tutelage of Don Cooper. All in all, as ugly as it was, I'll take it.

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