Bowie Baysox starting pitcher Steve Johnson battled through five innings to get his first win for the Baysox Wednesday evening, defeating the best team in the Eastern League, the Akron Aeros 5-3.
The right-handed pitcher, who turns 22 on Monday, did not have his best start of his short Baysox career, but he did enough to keep the double-A squad in the game 1 of a doubleheader. He got off to a nightmare of a start, walking the first three batters he saw and throwing 35 pitches. He managed to get out of the jam giving up just two runs.
"In my [pre-game bullpen session] I was fine and then all of a sudden the first three batters I just kind of lost it," Johnson said. "I really don't know how that happens, it just happens."
His rocky start drew Baysox pitching coach Larry McCall out of the dugout in the first, but it was the only visit Johnson needed.
"His arm wasn't catching up," McCall explained. "Went out there and told him to stay back, and it seemed like it's just a broken record. It happens to a lot of guys though, and today he threw the ball well. He kept us in the game for five innings."
Johnson was able to settle down and get through four more innings despite the heavy work load in the first. In contrast to the 35 pitches he threw that inning, over the next four, he only threw 66 more pitches, averaging nearly half of what he threw in the first; 16.5 pitches per inning.
Johnson would also give up just one more run in the game, a solo home run to Aeros' catcher Carlos Santana. Santana is second in the Eastern League in home runs, hitting his 21st off of Johnson and fourth in the league with a .940 OPS.
By the time Johnson left, he walked two more batters, five total in the game and struck out four batters. He only gave up two hits and three runs (all earned) to the Aeros who entered the game second in the league with 599 runs.
The offensive support for Johnson came from all over the lineup. The top five batters in the lineup, Danny Figueroa, Paco Figueroa, Josh Bell, Eric Crozier and Miguel Abreu, each scored runs. Three of the runs batted in, though, came from batters six through eight as Ambiorix Concepcion, Adam Donachie and Carlos Rojas each added single RBI's of their own.
Reliever Luis Lebron cleaned up for Johnson, earning a two-inning save, his fifth with Bowie and 16th this year. Lebron has been automatic in August and has pitched better in Bowie than he did in high-A Frederick this season where he earned Caorlina League All-Star honors.
Lebron has not given up a run in nine August appearances. In six of those, he went more than one inning and he has only three batters to reach base (two hits and a walk) in 11.2 innings this month. He has struck out 15 batters in this stretch as well.
"Right now [Lebron] is throwing the ball well," McCall said. "We had a chance to win the ball game and that's why he went two innings."
While Johnson had to turn the ball over earlier than he would have liked, this win was big for him.
"It took a while, took longer than I wanted it to, but it feels great to have the first win, finally. To end the season, maybe get two more or maybe one in the playoffs, two or three. It's a great feeling, it's behind me now, so I can just go ahead."
As Johnson alluded to it, the Baysox are in the thick of the EL Southern Division playoffs race for the second year in a row. After play on Wednesday, the Baysox are just three games out of the final playoff spot currently held by the Reading Phillies, and Johnson is enjoying pitching for a team that has a chance to make the playoffs.
"It's always better near the end of the season when you're in it," Johnson said. "Each games matters so you get a little more pumped up for each game. "
"It's a lot easier to pitch because your body's ready and everything. Your body's pumped up, you don't need to pump yourself up anymore. It's a lot better pitching in games that mean something."
The Baysox hit the road on Friday for four games in Reading where, if the rotation remains in-tact, Johnson should pitch.