BOSTON—On the surface, Brian Johnson’s 2015 season appeared dominant. In 18 Triple-A starts, he went 9-6, 2.53 and showed the poise, pitch mix, command, and feel to convince most evaluators that he represented a solid bet to be a major league starter.
Yet behind his effectiveness, something seemed amiss at times. Whereas Johnson sat at 90-91 mph for much of his breakout 2014 campaign, his fastball lost a couple ticks in 2015, often sitting at 88-89 mph. The lefthander also found that his signature fastball command sometimes wasn’t present.
Johnson’s season ended in early August when he was diagnosed with ulnar nerve irritation. In hindsight, he understands how the condition impacted him.
“I don’t even know if there was a certain time when it started, but it was there. It’s probably my fault for not saying anything,” said Johnson. “I didn’t have the fastball command that I’ve always relied on. I was having to adjust in the middle of a start. … I was having to throw a 2-0 or 3-0 slider just to find my slot because of the nerve issue, with my hand going numb.”
While Johnson had positioned himself for an audition in the Red Sox’ big league rotation over the final two months, the injury instead became sufficiently acute that his season was done in early August.
Now, Johnson is entering his second big league camp with a clean bill of health, having started throwing off the mound in January. While his inability to pitch down the stretch in 2015 effectively prevented him from being considered a candidate for the season-opening big league rotation, Johnson is more focused on the fact that he’ll be able to pitch than on the specifics of his assignment.
“I’m going to go out there (in spring training), put my head down, and work as hard as I can, like I always do,” said Johnson. “You never know what can happen. That’s how I look at it. Crazier things have happened where things can work out for me.”
• The Red Sox and low Class A Greenville extended their player-development contract through 2020.
• Former Red Sox outfielder Shaq Thompson, a 2012 18th-rounder who went 0-for-39 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, reached the Super Bowl as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers.