A closer look at Erik Johnson's Triple-A debut

USA TODAY Sports

Some new-level jitters may have hurt his command, but he survived five walks

Erik Johnson made his Triple-A debut on Sunday, and while he threw six innings of one-run ball, the means weren't characteristic of his Double-A dominance. He walked five batters on top of five singles, and the Indianapolis Indians made three outs on the basepaths.

(Josh Phegley was responsible for two of them. He flashed his strong arm by thwarting a steal attempt in the second, and he picked a curve in the dirt cleanly, which a slow-breaking runner at first wasn't counting on. He threw to second, and the tag was applied after a brief rundown.)

That said, it looked like first-start jitters, at least at the onset. He began with a 25-pitch first inning, and when he missed with his pitches, he missed high, and often to the arm side. That was with all his pitches -- fastball, cutter, slider, curve.

(He also throws a changeup, but I don't think I saw one over his six innings. It's possible he didn't throw one, because Indianapolis' lineup featured seven righties. It's also possible I missed a couple, because the camera at Victory Field is offset by quite a bit, making pitch movement a little more difficult to determine.)

He eventually got the overhand curve down, throwing a number of nice ones that crossed the plate at the knees or lower. The cutter and slider -- and it looked like he threw the former more often than the latter -- still often missed up, but he was able to get them to break off the plate away from righties, which got a few less-disciplined swings and misses.

I GIF'd the best versions of his pitches. Let's start with his fastball, which ranged between 91-94, both from the windup and the stretch:

Johnson_fastball_medium

Here's his cutter, which I don't believe I had seen before. It ranged from 87-89, though I think I saw one hit 90.

Johnson_cutter_medium

The slider ranges between 82-86, but the location was problematic throughout.

And here's the curve, which was 74-75:

Johnson_curve_medium


Even with his control problems, he wasn't hit particularly hard. The Indians only got him on fastball counts, and I didn't see many sure swings on his breaking stuff, when he made it look tempting. I'm under the impression that this start isn't representative of his performance at Birmingham, but we'll find out soon enough. Should he settle into a similar groove at Charlotte, at least this gives us an idea of what he might look like with major-league butterflies.

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