Boston’s Brian Johnson Ready to Contribute in Any Situation
By Michael Silverman
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Last year, Brian Johnson was the closest thing the Red Sox pitching had to a super-utility player like Brock Holt.
Spot starter, swing man, short relief, middle relief, long relief -- Johnson did it all and he did it pretty well, too.
This year, Johnson, along with Hector Velazquez, will likely serve the same role but the difference with Johnson is that this year he knows what he’s going into. Last year was the first time in Johnson’s professional career which began in 2012 in which he served as a reliever. And 25 of his 38 appearances came from the bullpen last year.
It was new and it was different, but this year it won’t be.
“I think last year was a big stepping-stone for me learning how to prep for the bullpen because I had never done that and I was trying to learn mid-season at the big-league level, that was kind of tough for me, I didn’t know how much to throw, stuff along the lines of pregame stuff,” said Johnson after he allowed one run in two inning of work in the Red Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Pirates on Monday. “I remember one time going into Alex’ office and saying ‘I’m figuring this out but I will figure this out.’”
With constant communication with Cora and the coaches, Johnson did figure it out. The dividends could be just as good, if not better, this year.
“The bullpen role, if that’s the case, if we have to throw him out of the bullpen this year, he’ll be better suited to it,” said Cora. “I think he learned a lot as far as being aggressive in the edges of the strike zone. We expect big things out of him.”
Johnson did not make any of the three postseason rosters, but that never became a problem.
“You try to find a way to help,” said Johnson. “I contribute a lot of that to Alex where he communicated so well, when he told me I wasn’t going to be on the roster I wasn’t like ‘Oh my god.’ We had talked, throughout whole year, even some outings I came out at 4 2/3 (innings) he had talked to me and it wasn’t like I was being blindsided. Throughout year he did great job of communicating with me and I think he did that with the whole team.”
Cora surprised nobody by leaving off Johnson from the postseason roster. He also understands how vital he was for the team to make the postseason.
“Him and Hector last year, they were like our MVPs,” said Cora. “Without those two, we don’t win the World Series. What they did since the fourth game of the season all the way to the end, starting games, high-leverage situations, up 10, down 6, whatever. They were amazing. They were available. They never complained. Those two guys, they were our saviors throughout the season.”
Having Johnson and Velazquez be available again this year matters a great deal to Cora.
“I’m a big believer that that’s needed nowadays,” said Cora. “Coming into the situation last year, that was something I talked to Dave (Dombrowski), we needed guys who could go multiple innings. It’s tough to survive just with guys that go one inning or lefties that only get lefties out. It’s not that easy nowadays so I’d rather have two guys that can go multiple innings then actually have guys that their specialty is to get right-handed or left-handed hitters.”