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See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report
First it was James, then it was J.J. but officially–it’s James.
It doesn’t really matter which first name Orioles righthander James Johnson uses, because ever since the name confusion emerged last season, the 22-year-old’s success rate has improved dramatically.
“When people started with the whole J.J. thing, I didn’t really understand it,” Johnson said. “My teammates and friends call me that, but basically because those are my initials. And having J.J. in there with Johnson, well . . . that’s just too many J’s.”
The Orioles were patient with Johnson after signing him as a fifth-round pick in 2001, not exposing him to full-season ball until his fourth professional season–and even then, they held him back in extended spring training while he recovered from a bout with mononucleosis.
But last year, Johnson anchored the staff at high Class A Frederick, going 12-9, 3.49 with 168 strikeouts in 160 innings and helping them to win the Carolina League title.
This season, the results at Double-A Bowie have been even better–even if the stuff hasn’t been. After coming away as the winning pitcher in Thursday’s 3-2 win against Trenton, Johnson is now 4-1, 3.63 with a 36-14 strikeout-walk ratio in 40 innings.
The strikeout-walk rate has been the biggest thing that has haunted him this season, and he walked four again Thursday.
“My stuff was OK, but I’m walking too many guys,” Johnson said. “I need to do a better job of commanding my pitches. Especially my fastball–I need to be able to throw that for strikes whenever I need to, and it’s been only kind of there sometimes.”
Johnson’s velocity on his fastball has also been down slightly, sitting in the 88-90 mph range compared to last season when he was consistently 90-93.
“Part of it is it’s so early, part of it is my comfort level with my command,” Johnson said. “But right now everything’s too hard. My curveball’s been good most of the time, but my changeup’s been too hard. When you’re throwing fastballs at 88-90, an 85 mile-an-hour changeup is probably not a good thing.”
Johnson isn’t concerned much with his arm speed on the changeup, but is tinkering with different grips to make it more effective and get it back to where it was last season, when his change was one of the best in the Carolina League.
And while he led the CL in strikeouts last season, Johnson said he needs to not focus on that number–especially as he works through things with his changeup and fastball command. Instead, he’s showing consistent maturity in battling through innings without his best stuff–which might be the best thing for his development.
“With things the way are now, I just can’t get away with trying to blow guys away,” he said. “I need to go out there and force contact instead of trying to strike everybody out. I was doing that at certain points this season and having that mentality never gets you anywhere.”
Healthy And Dealing
It’s been a long road for Indians lefthander Scott Lewis, but all the hard work rehabbing various injuries currently has the 22-year-old leading the minors in ERA with a 0.66 mark at high Class A Kinston.
Lewis, a third-round pick out of Ohio State in 2004, blew out his elbow during his sophomore season with the Buckeyes and needed Tommy John surgery. He bounced back quickly, however, returning to the mound 11 months after the operation.
Tribe area scout Bob Mayer saw enough in him when he returned to convince the Indians to sign him for $460,000.
While Lewis showed signs of regaining his pre-injury form in his debut at short-season Mahoning Valley–hitting 92 mph consistently with good command of his secondary pitches–he took a step backward last season in a return trip to the Scrappers.
Lewis was on strict pitch counts at Mahoning, then came down with bicep tendonitis and missed six weeks.
But this season, Lewis is showing signs that he could move quickly if he remains healthy.
Currently on a 65-70 pitch count, Lewis is 0-1, 0.66 with a 36-2 strikeout-walk ratio. His fastball has been up to 92-93 mph and his secondary stuff–including added power and depth to his slurvy breaking ball–has been very consistent as well.
“His stuff has been solid,” Kinston pitching coach Steve Lyons said. “Especially over his last three starts where he’s carried the same stuff each time. His changeup’s been very consistent, and even though his curveball was just OK the last time out, that grades out as still pretty good.”
But still, the Indians plan on being cautious with Lewis, obviously because of the health questions that have dogged him in the past.
“Everything’s swing and miss right now,” Lyons said. “But he’s had tremendous command of all his pitches. All we’re working with him now is being consistent from outing to outing. We don’t know what’s on the other side in how he bounces back after every start. But he’s been fine health-wise. Everything is going to be determined on how he bounces back.”
Windsor Impresses In Triple-A Debut
Athletics righthander Jason Windsor continued doing what he’d done since his college days with Cal State Fullerton: He spotted his fastball, used his changeup liberally and mixed in sliders and curveballs effectively.
It’s just this time he was making his Triple-A debut for Sacramento.
“It’s a bigger crowd and a bigger stadium,” Windsor told the Sacramento Bee. “There’s better clubhouse food, but it’s still the same game and you’re still out there to get guys out.”
Windsor, a 2004 third-round pick, gave up two runs on six hits in his 6 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked one in the River Cats 8-2 win at Oklahoma.
“He got swings and misses with his changeup. He had the hitters out in front all night,” Sacramento pitching coach Rick Rodriguez said of Windsor’s plus-plus offering.
“He moved his fastball in and out, and really established a rhythm for the game,” Rodriguez said. “I was impressed by his concentration.”
Windsor sailed through his first six innings, but left a changeup out over the plate to Jamie Burke, who deposited the pitch into the stands for Oklahoma’s only two runs. After walking the next batter, Windsor was pulled after 100 pitches, 67 of which were strikes.
As a collegian, Windsor teamed with Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Romero to pitch Fullerton to a College World Series title in 2004. Romero would be drafted sixth overall the following year.
The Return Of Beau
Rome and Charleston are not only two of the most prospect-laden teams in the low Class A South Atlantic League, they also boast the league’s two best records.
Because of a rainout on Wednesday, the two played a doubleheader yesterday to kick off a four game set. However, the two games did little to prove which team was superior, as Rome took the opener 3-1 while Charleston won the nightcap 7-0.
The opener was particularly promising for Rome, because it saw the return of Beau Jones, who had been on the disabled list with an oblique strain. A supplemental first-round pick of the Braves last June out of Destrehan (La.) High, the lefthander went four innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out five.
“Tonight I just wanted to go out and re-establish myself after not having pitched for 15 days,” Jones told the Rome News-Tribune. “I was pretty happy with the way it went. For me to throw 55 pitches in four innings, I’ll take that.”
After allowing a run in the first, Jones found his groove and retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a stretch of nine straight. He got a no-decision, but he lowered his ERA to 2.49.
“I think the injury might have actually helped me in some ways,” Jones told the paper. “It kind of slowed me down and gave me a chance to get my mechanics in sync.”
The Braves had another promising youngster, Jairo Cuevas, on the mound in game two, but Charleston had little trouble with him. The Dominican righthander did not get out of the fourth inning as he allowed seven runs on eight hits and took the loss, dropping his record to 2-3, 7.76.
C.J. Henry got the ball rolling for the RiverDogs in the game two, as he led off the second inning with a double and came around to score on sacrifice fly from Wilkins De La Rosa in what would prove to be the only run Charleston would need thanks to a combined shutout from Jim Conroy and Rolando Japa.
It was Henry’s fourth game back from a hamstring injury and his first multi-hit game of the season. The Yankees first-rounder has hit safely in all four games since his return.
Rome still sits in first place in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division with a record of 23-10. Charleston is three and a half games back at 20-14.
• The Rangers replaced Triple-A manager Tim Ireland with Mike Boulanger. The Rangers cited philosophical differences in firing Ireland. The firing came while Ireland was serving a 10-game suspension after an 18-minute argument with umpires during a game against Round Rock . . . It’s been a rough two weeks for Double-A Binghamton closer Henry Owens. Tightness in his right forearm shut the Mets righthander down since April 30, and Tuesday, Owens was diagnosed with a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Owens, 27, was dominant at Binghamton with 33 strikeouts in just 15 innings this season . . . Angels righthander Jered Weaver struck out three and allowed zero walks or extra-base hits in seven scoreless innings for Triple-A Salt Lake. He retired the final seven Omaha batters he faced . . . Diamondbacks righthander Dustin Nippert rolled to 5-0 after winning his fourth consecutive start for Triple-A Tucson. Nippert allowed both Nashville runs, but the Sidewinders prevailed 9-2. The 6-foot-8 righthander fanned five and walked one in his six innings of work, which required 105 pitches. “I think one of the big issues was the number of pitches he threw in the amount of innings,” manager Chip Hale told the Tucson Citizen. “He battled. He threw a lot of changeups, which you want to see. He did a good job.” Nippert has allowed just one home run this season . . . Cubs outfielder Felix Pie broke a 2-for-19 skid with an full-count, opposite-field, walk-off home run for Triple-A Iowa. The shot was Pie’s second of the game and it snapped the Cubs’ three-game losing streak. “I’ve had some bad at-bats because I’ve tried to hit some bad pitches,” Pie told the Des Moines Register. “I’m trying to be more patient at the plate, trying to watch more pitches.”