By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
EVERETT — Chris Johnson believes that good things happen if you keep working hard.
After three years at the University of Portland, Johnson reaped some of the rewards of his hard work.
The right-handed pitcher was selected in the 17th round by the San Francisco Giants in the Major League Baseball draft.
Johnson then faced a difficult decision: Return for his senior year at Portland, or turn professional?
The prospect of starting his pro baseball career eventually won out.
“It was an important decision,” the 2009 Meadowdale High School graduate said. “I loved being at the University of Portland. The coaches, people, faculty were all great to me. It was a really hard decision to make. … I think ultimately it was the right decision.
“The length of a pro career can be short. I’d like to kind of get it started whenever I could. I had a pretty good opportunity with the Giants.”
Last week, Johnson returned to the Northwest with his team, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, and the right-handed reliever had a strong appearance against the Everett AquaSox on July 25.
Johnson threw four innings, allowing one run on two hits. He struck out four and walked only one. Johnson threw 55 pitches, 37 of them for strikes. The four-inning stint was Johnson’s longest among his nine appearances this season.
“I had a really good changeup,” Johnson said. “I was spotting up my fastball pretty well and kind of working off that. … I was trying to keep guys off-balance and get them out in whatever way I could.”
Johnson started 13 games at Portland last spring. He finished 4-4 with a 3.08 ERA. Johnson allowed 81 hits and 21 walks and struck out 57 in 76 innings.
A relief pitcher has a different mindset than a starter, according to Johnson.
“Being a reliever you’re not necessarily going to know when you’re going to pitch,” he said. “You kind of always have to be ready, where as a starter you have to have every game mapped out when you’re going to throw.
“It definitely was an adjustment at first, but I think having been a reliever this year, I’m starting to kind of get the hang of it and gotten the mental and physical routines for the games I think I might throw in.”
Johnson has started one game and also done some short relief work. He currently is a middle reliever.
It doesn’t matter what role he plays.
“I’m just glad to get innings out there,” Johnson said. “It’s been fun.”
The talent level is much higher in the Northwest League as opposed to college.
“All the hitters up here are obviously better than college,” Johnson said. “Pretty much every guy out here is what I call a top-of-the-order guy. So you don’t really have any easy outs, one through nine, whereas you might have a couple in college. … You’ve really got to battle, throw all your pitches and really give all you can to get them out.”
Johnson is 1-1 with a 4.43 ERA. In 22 1/3 innings of work in nine games, he has struck out 20 and walked two.
After being assigned to Salem-Keizer, Johnson knew the Volcanoes would be visiting Everett and he hoped he would have the opportunity to play in front of family and friends again. Johnson made his first collegiate start against the University of Washington.
“It was good to get out there and do well,” Johnson said. “Coming up to Everett was something I was looking forward to. When I got the schedule … I saw we were in the same league as these guys.
“I was hoping I got the chance to pitch and I did, and I did pretty well.”
As a young boy, Johnson attended some of the games at Everett Memorial Stadium.
“It was really weird and pretty cool to be out there pitching on the same field as the team I grew up watching as a little kid,” he said.
His advice to young players who hope to become a professional baseball player is to be persistent.
“Keep going after it,” Johnson said.
If you’re playing baseball in college as Johnson was, make the most of that opportunity and know that the coaches are there to help you get where you want to go, he added.
“Keep a good attitude, keep working hard and good things will happen,” Johnson said.
Herald writer Nick Patterson contributed to this story.