Pirates Notebook: Winter ball's nutty environment had Johnson prepared

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SAN DIEGO -- Amid the boiling cauldron of passion that is a Dominican Winter League baseball game, Kris Johnson received some preparation.

"That's probably what got me ready for [Sunday]," Johnson said. "Facing big leaguers down there, in hostile environments, screaming, fans, drums going off, all the music.

"It's nuts, but it's a good nuts."

Sunday, Johnson entered the game in the 11th inning. He held the Arizona Diamondbacks scoreless for the next five innings before giving up two runs in the 16th. Two runs on five hits in six innings, with two walks and five strikeouts, usually holds up as a good start, let alone as an outing for a pitcher's major league debut.

"Those are the times you really need to knuckle down," he said. "If it was a start, that's a great start. But when it came down to it, later-inning games, you're playing a one-inning game basically from then on out. You have to win that inning."

The Pirates optioned the left-handed Johnson, 28, to Class AAA Indianapolis before Monday's game against the San Diego Padres and recalled right-hander Ryan Reid. Johnson wouldn't have been available for a few days after throwing 82 pitches Sunday.

Johnson debuted after eight seasons in the minors. This former first-round pick out of Wichita State pitched for Class AAA Indianapolis in parts of the past two seasons and played winter ball for the past three.

"I definitely noticed the last two years when I've gone late [in the winter ball season], it definitely helps me get prepared for spring training and the rest of the season," he said.

Johnson joined Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco on Leones del Escogido. He had a 0.67 ERA in six games, four starts, striking out 22 and walking six in 27 innings.

This season, he had a 2.41 ERA in 25 games, 20 starts, for Indianapolis. Except for May, when he had a 4.78 ERA, he pitched well.

"The fastball command has been there since June 1," he said. "I had a rough patch in May. Something clicked. The fastball command was there, I was throwing off-speed for strikes, keeping hitters on their toes."

Indians manager Dean Treanor called Johnson into his office after the game Saturday night in Syracuse, N.Y., to tell Johnson he was bumped from his scheduled Sunday start. After a brief and playful discussion, Johnson found out why. He called his parents, and they flew to Pittsburgh from Kansas City.

Johnson pitched six innings without any sleep. "Running on fumes," he said. "All adrenaline."

"The job he did for us was exciting to watch," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Obviously well-needed for our club. For our bullpen, reminiscent of the effort that Daniel McCutchen gave us in Atlanta a few years ago."

McCutchen pitched 51/3 innings, and was the loser, in a July 26, 2011, game against the Braves that went 19 innings.

Rodriguez still hurting

Wandy Rodriguez used his full arsenal in a 40-pitch bullpen session, but said afterward he still felt discomfort in his left forearm. "I feel something there," Rodriguez said, though he could not specify what that was. He is scheduled to throw a simulated game later this week.

Snider back at it

Travis Snider went 1 for 3 with a run scored in the first game of Class AA Altoona's doubleheader Monday. He is on a rehabilitation assignment as he recovers from his left big toe injury.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 20, 2013 5:00 AM


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