Missouri State righthander Pierce Johnson had pitched himself into the first round of the 2012 draft before leaving a March 30 start against Dallas Baptist after just three innings. He missed his next two starts with what was diagnosed as a forearm strain, putting his draft status in question. When he finally returned to the mound Sunday against Wichita State, he provided the answers scouts wanted to see.
Johnson followed a shaky first inning in which he allowed two runs to pitch five strong frames afterward. He struck out nine and walked none in his six innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs while throwing 49 of 74 pitches for strikes. Despite his layoff, his fastball ran from 91-94 mph and he backed it up with a hard curveball and an effective changeup in a 3-2 loss to the Shockers.
"Other than being a little rusty in the first inning, he was good," said Bears assistant Paul Evans, who has coached eight Missouri State pitchers who have advanced to the major leagues. "You could tell he was a little jittery at first, but then he settled in. I was very pleased with what I saw."
Before his forearm strain, Johnson was working at 92-94 mph and topping out at 96 with his lively fastball. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder is doing a better job of repeating his delivery and commanding his pitches than he had in his first two college seasons. A 15th-round pick by the Rays out of a Colorado high school in 2009, he has a 2-4, 2.28 record with 80 strikeouts in 55 innings over eight starts this spring.