BOSTON — The line drive hit Brian Johnson in the side of the head 10 days ago, and he was so grateful.
It’s all perspective.
“I think the only way to shake that off is to take one in the face before that,” Johnson said. “You take one in the face, then one in the head is not too bad.”
Johnson, 26, a left-hander who will start for the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night in Toronto, has dealt with his share of adversity – physically and emotionally – beginning with a liner to his face in 2012.
The comebacker five years ago ended Johnson’s rookie pro season. He needed to recover from a broken nose and 16 fractures in his face, mostly around his eyes and nose.
That is why Johnson can say the shot to the side of his head on April 8, while making his first 2017 start for Triple-A Pawtucket, was “not too bad.”
Johnson left the game under his own power. He made his next scheduled start last Thursday.
“I just had to get back out there. I didn’t want anything to linger from the start before,” he said. “I felt well.”
And he looked it.
Johnson pitched 62/3 innings, giving up one run on four hits and one walk, striking out eight.
“The strike-throwing has been good, much improved,” said Red Sox Manager John Farrell. “Sharpness with the secondary stuff is there. The velocity is probably not where it was two years ago, but improved over a year ago.”
Initially, Johnson was not considered the first starting option out of Pawtucket. Major League veteran Kyle Kendrick had a much better spring training, but has struggled with the PawSox (0-2, 10.38), and his last start was Saturday.
Boston realized it needed a pitcher when starter Eduardo Rodriguez went on paternity leave after the birth of his son Sunday night. The PawSox were scheduled to fly out Monday morning to Charlotte, North Carolina. Johnson’s phone rang.
“It was nine in the morning,” Johnson said. “I was about to go to the field, to get on the bus (to the airport). Good timing.”
Johnson spoke from the Fenway clubhouse after Monday’s game. He was packing his Pawtucket gear bag, readying for the flight to Toronto. He walked into Farrell’s office, and the manager leaped to his feet with a huge grin.
Who wouldn’t be glad to see Johnson get another shot at the majors?
“He’s been through quite a bit,” Farrell said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity with him (Tuesday).”
Johnson rebounded from that initial, violent injury in 2012. He reached Double-A Portland in 2014 (a stellar 10-2 record, 1.75 ERA) and made his major league debut in July 2015.
But after that start (four runs in 41/3 innings), Johnson was shut down for the season with nerve problems in his arm.
In the offseason, Johnson was a passenger in a car that was carjacked in Florida. He appeared to recover from that.
But early in the 2016 season, Johnson did not feel right. The arm was improved, but Johnson was battling anxiety, putting too much pressure on himself. With the Red Sox help, he took a break from May to July. He eventually came back and made his final eight starts with Pawtucket.
Coming into this season, Johnson’s spring training numbers (5.40 ERA) did not inspire confidence. Then came another line drive to the head – but away from his face.
Johnson got back up and excelled.
“It says a lot about (his) mental strength,” Farrell said. “To being hit in the head four years ago, to the recent one, I think it says a lot about the resiliency and the competitiveness that is there right now.”
Johnson is commanding his low 90s fastball, while mixing in an above-average curveball.
After Johnson made his first appearance with the Red Sox in 2015, it seemed like he would be back soon – not almost two years later.
“You definitely appreciate the call-up more because you don’t know what’s next … It took two years. It was a long path, but I’m excited to be here … I don’t even know how to express it.
“It is everything I hoped for. You’re not guaranteed to get that chance again. Now I have opportunity.
“Healthy, confident and I’ll try to make the most out of tomorrow.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: