Earlier this week, Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez suffered a knee injury while warming up for his game against the Baltimore Orioles. Rodriguez played the game, but was shelled, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits in 5 and 2/3 innings pitched. Rodriguez was placed on the disabled list after the outing, clearing a roster spot that will temporarily be held by reliever Brandon Workman, but ultimately in need of a replacement starter.
That starter will most likely be Brian Johnson. The 27-year-old had always been regarded as top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, and made his debut in 2015 against the Houston Astros. Since that time, Johnson has been injured and dealt with serious anxiety issues that all but scrapped his 2016 campaign.
Johnson has come back even stronger than before, returning to majors with a 2-0 record and 2.57 ERA in two starts, including his first career shutout and complete game against the Seattle Mariners in his last start.
It is unclear how long Rodriguez will be out, but with a history of knee injuries, he could be treated with caution. Thanks to a combination of this and the fact that the combination of Hector Velasquez, Kyle Kendrick and 2016 uses of Henry Owens have left much to be desired, Johnson will get an extended look. So what can be expected from Johnson?
Johnson has a track record of starting slowly at each level, but making quick adjustments. Johnson has absolutely dominated Triple-A, with a career mark of 16-12 with a 3.14 ERA in 40 starts. With nothing left to prove at Triple-A and a closing window, this could be the moment for Johnson to force the Red Sox hand. Drew Pomeranz has been up and down in the rotation, Rodriguez will need time, and the team could look to manage David Price’s innings as the season goes on.
In addition, Johnson will be out of options next season and will need to be stashed on the major league roster in some way. Johnson could force the team to move a starter to the pen, like Mike Clevinger was able to do in Cleveland, Alex Asher has done in Baltimore and Ty Blach could conceivably do in San Francisco when Madison Bumgarner returns.
The time is now for Johnson. The Red Sox have a terrific rotation when they are all healthy, but this may be the best chance Johnson has to get an extended look. Coming off the best performance of his career, Johnson has established himself as the No. 6 starter on the organizational depth chart. If Johnson wants to solidify a back end rotational spot, his best chance has just presented itself.