By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Chris Johnson’s second go-around in the Northwest League is making all the difference.
The Edmonds native is back for his second stint with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, and the right-handed pitcher has shown substantial progress from last season.
“I’ve had a pretty good start to the season,” Johnson said. “It’s always nice to get off to a good start and get some momentum going for the rest of the season.”
Johnson, a 2009 graduate of Meadowdale High School, started Thursday’s game against Everett and pitched better than his final numbers indicated. In five innings, he allowed four runs on nine hits. However, he walked none and struck out seven. He also didn’t receive much help from a defense that committed four errors behind him. He left with a no-decision as Salem-Keizer wound up winning 8-5 in 12 innings.
“I think I threw pretty well,” Johnson said. “The box score might not indicate it. I think I got a couple bad breaks, it seemed like a lot of ground balls found some holes. But just from a pitching perspective I threw the ball pretty well.
“Once I got to two strikes my slider was working a lot,” Johnson added. “The first time through the lineup I threw a lot of first-pitch fastballs and a couple got hit pretty good. The second and third times through I made an adjustment, I threw a lot more offspeed pitches early in the count to get ahead, then tried to put them away with the slider.”
Thursday’s performance was par for the course for Johnson so far this season. In five starts he’s 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA, having walked just three and struck out 25 in 29 innings. Thursday’s start was the first time this season he didn’t go six innings, and it was just the second time he was scored upon.
That’s a major improvement from last season. Johnson joined the Volcanoes after being selected in the 17th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Portland. He appeared in 16 games (six starts) with Salem-Keizer, going 2-4 with a 6.84 ERA. He walked 11 and struck out 47 in 482/3 innings.
“I struggled a lot at times last year, getting my bearings in professional ball,” Johnson said. “This year I’m a lot more comfortable. I’m confident and know what to expect with pro ball and all the travel. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Johnson also credited work during extended spring training for the turnaround, as he tweaked his mechanics to improve his balance.
“I’ve made some pretty big changes,” Johnson said. “Last year I had a lot of moving parts going a couple different ways. I think I’ve been a lot more fluid and driving the ball straight toward home plate, which has really helped my control and my command.
“It puts all my stuff on the same plane, makes it more deceptive, and I think it’s made my slider break a little sharper,” Johnson added. “I’ve gotten a lot more swings-and-misses on that.”
And if he keeps it up, Johnson will be making his way up the ladder soon.