Injuries paved the way for Brian Johnson to make five starts with the Red Sox last season, but he spent most of the season in the rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he carried a 3.09 ERA despite a modest 7.0 K/9. Out of minor league options, the Red Sox revealed in November that they plan on making him a reliever in 2018, where he could be particular effective is a lefty specialist. A first-round pick out of Florida in 2012, the 27-year-old has been very hittable as a starter in his limited chances to fill in as a member of the Boston rotation (career 4.88 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in six starts), thanks to his lack of an out pitch despite his ability to mix four different offerings. Unless he ends up in a situation where he can take the ball every fifth day in a pitcher-friendly environment in 2018, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which Johnson's role as a reliever places him on the fantasy radar.
Johnson is expected to start the regular season in the rotation, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports. Johnson's fate over the last three weeks has hinged on the health of Drew Pomeranz (forearm), Steven Wright (knee) and Eduardo Rodriguez (knee), all of whom are behind schedule. Rodriguez has a chance to be ready for the first week of the season, but it appears Johnson will make at least one start.
Johnson allowed two hits and a walk while striking out two over four scoreless innings in Sunday's start against the Pirates. Johnson hasn't allowed a run in three of his four Grapefruit League starts, making manager Alex Cora more comfortable with the idea of Johnson as a temporary member of the rotation that opens the regular season. The left-hander, who was going to be used as a reliever, is starting while the Red Sox evaluate the progress of injured starters Steven Wright (knee), Drew Pomeranz (forearm) and Eduardo Rodriguez (knee). All three could open the season on the disabled list, which would grant Johnson at least one start. In an era when everyone's throwing hard, Johnson goes the other way. He works in the low-90s and needs to change speeds and mix his pitches to be effective. When the rotation is back at full strength, Johnson will move to the bullpen.
Johnson seems to have the lead on the fifth starting rotation spot with both Steven Wright (knee) and Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) unlikely to be ready to start the season, MassLive.com reports. Johnson is out of options, and his main competition for fill-in duty, Hector Velazquez, is off to a rocky start to spring training (10 hits, two strikeouts in 7.1 innings). The left-handed Johnson has turned in four scoreless frames to begin the spring with two strikeouts and no walks. He hasn't enjoyed much success at the big-league level to this point, and he won't offer much upside given his limited strikeout potential (6.9 K/9), but those in AL-only leagues looking to replace an injured pitcher could probably do worse.
Johnson's fastball hit 95-96 mph on the radar gun during his second spring start Saturday, Nick Friar of the New Bedford Standard Times reports. The left-hander allowed two hits over two scoreless innings against the Yankees. Johnson, who typically sits in the low-90s, couldn't explain the increased velocity, but speculated he's been focused on getting a good turn and driving with his backside. Whatever the cause, he's been impressive thus far, having thrown four scoreless innings over two starts, and he's making a case for a spot on the 25-man roster. That could be in a bullpen role, or as a temporary fill-in fifth starter while Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) works his way back.
Johnson will start Sunday against the Orioles. The left-handed Johnson, who is out of minor-league options, was expected to compete for a role in the bullpen but could end up in the rotation to start the season. Manager Alex Cora told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe that Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) and Steven Wright (knee) are unlikely to open the season on the 25-man roster. That leaves a hole in the starting rotation. Cora cited Johnson along with right-hander Hector Velazquez and left-hander Roenis Elias as potential spot starters to begin the season, according to Boston Herald's Chad Jennings.