Be it his preferred soft drink, his role as a pitcher, or the very pitches he throws, Jeremy Johnson has shown throughout his career that he can make adjustments.
A habitual Pepsi drinker who switched to Diet Pepsi a few years ago, Johnson is a Mud Hens reliever-turned-starter trying to boost his pitch repertoire for his new role. He worked on a slider for the first time in years last week, and employed it yesterday in the Toledo's 7-1 win over the Indianapolis Indians.
Johnson (4-0) enjoyed his best and longest start of the season in yesterday's matinee, allowing a run on four hits with four strikeouts.
He didn't walk a batter and threw between eight and 10 sliders, having only practiced that pitch briefly during a bullpen session between starts.
"The way he threw today, if he keeps improving on that [slider] he's going to be a whole lot tougher to hit," Hens manager Larry Parrish said.
Parrish and Toledo pitching coach A.J. Sager felt Johnson needed a sharper breaking pitch to go along with his fastball and slow curve, hence the reintroduction of the slider.
Johnson spent most of last season as a reliever in Toledo and opened this season coming out of Parrish's bullpen. A season-ending injury to Macay McBride on April 5 necessitated Johnson's return to the role of starter, a role he had for much of a minor-league career that dates back to 2000 - all in Detroit's farm system.
Johnson, who needed 85 pitches to get through seven innings and threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced yesterday, said he wants to continue using a slider and also a changeup now that he looks to be in the rotation.
"You don't want to come out throwing your third and fourth-best pitches as a reliever," he said. "When you're starting you have more time to throw a
Johnson's teammates kidded him after the game by saying his key to success was the Diet Pepsi he drinks between innings. Johnson said he doesn't drink soda while he's pitching, but did admit to drinking "four or five" 12-ounce servings of Diet Pepsi per day.
He said he used to drink that much regular Pepsi daily, but the 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander said he was starting to get too heavy a few years ago and made the switch.
"I dropped 10 pounds when I started drinking diet," Johnson said.
Johnson was backed by an offense that jumped on Indians pitcher Mike Thompson, who made a spot start because scheduled starter John Van Benschoten was re-called by the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday.
Thompson (0-1) allowed five of the six runs charged to him on three homers - a solo shot from Mike Hessman in the first inning and two-run shots by Jeff Larish and Michael Hollimon in the fourth and fifth, respectively.
Hessman added an RBI double off reliever Brian Rogers in the fifth, and Matt Joyce knocked in a run in the eighth.
The lone run Johnson allowed came in the seventh, thanks to doubles by Neil Walker and
"[Johnson] used to be high on the [Tigers'] radar, but he hurt his arm and took a while to come back," Parrish said of Johnson's shoulder injury in 2003 that required surgery.
"If he keeps throwing like he did today he'll put himself back on that radar."
The Hens have won five straight and remain a half-game ahead of Louisville for first place in the International League West.
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