Debut review: Mixed bag for White Sox’ Micah Johnson
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If second baseman Micah Johnson was hoping for a quiet, seamless major-league debut, well, so much for that.
Johnson broke in on Opening Day, a rare thing in itself for a rookie. The White Sox got clobbered 10-1. And Johnson was front and center in the good, bad and ugly of a loss that gets magnified because it’s Game 1 and it’s followed by a day off, which allows the ruins to smolder for another 24 hours.
The Sox love what Johnson brings to their lineup, a ninth-place hitter with speed who can make pitchers work deep into counts. They will monitor his defense, which hasn’t been his calling card in the minor leagues. They hope it will be adequate.
In the loss Monday to the Royals, Johnson battled Yordano Ventura for 13 pitches before flying out to center his first time up. He also singled, saved the ball that he’ll give to his mother and promptly got picked off first by Ventura.
“I didn’t realize how quick his feet were,’’ said Johnson, who was hoping to give his trailing team a needed spark.
Johnson also missed an Alex Gordon ground ball that went beneath shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s glove first. It rolled into short center field for a two-run single.
“We didn’t really communicate well, but we’ll learn from that,’’ said Johnson, who was screened by an ultra-aggressive Ramirez on the play.
That one wasn’t on Johnson, 24, but there will be a learning curve, and if his defense becomes an issue, it could be magnified on an infield that last season ranked 26th defensively at third base and 28th at first base, according to FanGraphs’ metrics, with Conor Gillaspie and Jose Abreu holding down the corners.
“There will be growing pains,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “That’s part of the reason he’s hitting ninth, and we have options defensively to mix in and play certain matchups with. But we view him as the type of guy who can grow with this young group and be an important part the next several years.’’
Johnson, who had 84 stolen bases in the minor leagues in 2013 (and 22 last season because of injuries) fits into Hahn’s plan for long-term, sustainable success.
“An important element of that is the introduction of young players on an annual or semi-annual basis to keep that growth as a club going together and keep that continuous young core together,’’ Hahn said.
“Micah brought that different element to the lineup, the speed, the pressure on the defense.
“In terms of seizing the job, it was the middle of camp that it became apparent that he was ready. We first and foremost wanted him to come in healthy after what he had last August. And we wanted to make sure he was comfortable with the speed of the game from a defensive standpoint.’’
Johnson’s comfort level should improve a bit now that the opener is behind him.
“Yeah, definitely,’’ he said. “I just want to play. All the hoopla is over with, and the first game’s out of the way and all the excitement. Now, it’s just baseball. I wasn’t nervous before. I just realized it was baseball season, and I’m truly blessed to be here. That’s all it was . . . but we have 161 more to work on stuff and get rolling.’’
NOTE: Adam LaRoche spent the day off Tuesday at nearby Fort Scott (Kansas) High School, his alma mater, for the dedication of a $2 million baseball complex. LaRoche paid for the project.
“It’s nice to be in a position where we could build something,’’ LaRoche said. “It might be a little overkill for a high school field, but it will be fun for them.’’
LaRoche, 35, wants to assist as a coach there when he’s done playing.