The Silver Lining In A 1-0 Loss

Kudos to Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Nelson for a great scouting report.

 

A couple of weeks ago when he was still with Pawtucket, Nelson told me that Durham’s Jeremy Hellickson was one of the best young pitching prospects he had ever seen.

 

Hard to argue after watching the 23-year-old Tampa Bay prospect shut down the PawSox on Monday night.

 

Hellickson took a perfect game into the 7th inning before issuing a walk to Tug Hulett (on a borderline 3-2 pitch).  The only hit he allowed was a lead-off single to Aaron Bates in the 8th inning, as Hellickson combined with Winston Abreu on a 1-hit shutout in Durham’s 1-0 win.

 

But here’s the good news for Red Sox fans:  Kris Johnson was almost as impressive as Hellickson.

 


Kris Johnson re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Last year, Johnson was a mess as he went 3-16 with a 6.35 ERA between Pawtucket and Portland.  There was only one pitcher in minor league baseball that lost more games – Jeremy Horst in the Reds’ organization with 17.

 

This year, Kris is 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA.  In his last 3 starts, Johnson is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA (3 ER in 18 IP).

 

“He is blossoming into the pitcher that everyone thought that he could be,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur told me.  “He struggled last year, but this is what everyone has been expecting.”

 

It’s easy to see why the Red Sox chose Johnson with the 40th overall pick in the 2006 draft.  The 25-year-old lefty has a 90-94 mph fastball, along with a decent curve and changeup.  His only mistake in 6 IP on Monday was a 2-0 delivery in the second inning that Durham’s Ryan Shealy hit over the center field fence.

 

“That was a great game to watch,” Sauveur said.  “I want our team and our pitchers to win, but it’s not just about winning and losing, it’s about development and to see this kid go out and give up just one run against a guy who was throwing a perfect game until the 7th inning was awesome.  Kris battled his butt off.  Yea, he gave up a home run, but he kept putting zeroes up to keep us in the game.  He got beat 1-0, but that’s 5 out of 6 starts where he has pitched very, very well.”

 

Toss out a bad outing on May 8th where Johnson allowed 5 ER in 4.1 IP at Charlotte, and his ERA in his other 5 starts is 1.93 (6 ER in 28 IP).  KJ’s confidence appears to be growing with every solid start.

 

“He’s throwing all of his pitches better and in better spots, but that’s not the key to him pitching well – confidence is a major factor,” Sauveur said.  “Last year I think he tried to project confidence, but when things started to go wrong it was like, ‘Here we go again.’  This year, when he gives up a walk or a base hit, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to get this guy to hit into a double play or I’m going to get this guy out.’  He’s very positive out on the mound, but he’s not cocky and that’s what I’m loving about him.”

 

Johnson was not able to beat Jeremy Hellickson on Monday, but the struggles of 2009 are becoming a distant memory.

 

* * * * *

 

I’ve written several stories about Daniel Nava’s unlikely rise to brink of the big leagues, but he shared a funny anecdote on Monday that further illustrates how he seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of Boston’s best minor league hitters.

 


Nava shades re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Two years when Nava reported to spring training in Ft. Myers after being signed out of the independent Golden Baseball League, he was selected to suit up for the parent club in one of Boston’s exhibition games.  After the starters took a few at-bats, the minor leaguers got into the game, and Nava came to the plate in the late innings.

 

As Daniel stood in the on-deck circle, Terry Francona took one look at him and said, “Who the heck are you?”

 

That’s right – the Red Sox manager didn’t even know who Nava was when he sent Daniel to the plate for the first time in a Boston uniform.

 

“It was all new to me and I didn’t even know that I was supposed to introduce myself,” Nava said with a laugh.

 

Nava says he got a hit in that first spring training at-bat.  After hitting .348/.443/.552 in his first 257 professional games (including independent ball), it’s safe to safe that Francona knows who he is now.

 

* * * * *

 

Happy Birthday wishes were in order on Monday for former PawSox Kevin Frandsen and Bartolo Colon.

 

It does beg this question about Colon:  Which is more accurate – his listed age (37) or weight (245)?

 

Hyder says he’ll take the “over” in both cases.

 

* * * * *

 

Over the past few days, the stands at Durham Bulls Athletic Park have included Tug Hulett’s parents, Aaron Bates’ mom, and Josh Reddick’s dad.

 

Kenny Reddick has been the most vocal fan in the entire ballpark – not just for Josh, but for every player on the PawSox.

 

His enthusiasm brought to mind the story Josh told me last year about his first major league call-up, when he was promoted directly from Double-A Portland to the big leagues.

 


Josh and parents re.jpg 

Reddick said his first phone call was to his dad.  Since it was 1:00 in the afternoon, he figured his father would be working, but Kenny was actually at lunch.  Josh says his father stood up at a restaurant and proudly yelled, “My son is going to the big leagues.”

 

Josh’s next call was to his mom who was shopping at a Walmart.  Josh says she fell down in the middle of an aisle and started crying.

 

I suspect the other customers were probably thinking, “OK lady, so they ran out of a sale item.  It happens.”

 

* * * * *

 

I want to take a moment to thank all of you who read this blog.  According to mlblog’s numbers for April, “Heard it from Hoard” ranked 23rd in its category for most traffic.

 

I’d love to know more about you.  If you have the time, please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section. 

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox conclude their 8-game road trip on Tuesday at 7:05 in Durham.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

1 Comment

Dan:
Love the blog and your Tweets. Terrific stuff. You remind us that the players are human beings. Look for an email from me in the next few days. Keep up the great work.
– Chris in Illinois

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