HIGH POINT — Joe Johnson began the 2022 Rockers season with hopes of building upon a solid 2021 rookie season as a relief pitcher after graduating from High Point University.
The hopes went off course quickly.
A week into the season, Johnson went on the injured list because of tendonitis after making three appearances. Johnson eventually returned June 7. He gave up one run in his first three appearances back then hit another curve Tuesday with a disastrous outing against Long Island that lasted just 1/3 of an inning.
With two runners on, Johnson’s first pitch was knocked out of the yard for a three-run homer. Johnson then issued a walk, hit a batter, misplayed a bunt that was ruled a single, allowed a run-scoring groundout, uncocked a wild pitch that allowed another run to score and gave up a two-run single.
When it was all over, the Ducks had scored seven runs in going up 7-4 on the way to a 10-5 victory.
It could have been worse for Johnson. He gave up a single and a walk to load the bases again before getting out of the inning by forcing a popup.
“I just got out of rhythm a little bit (Tuesday),” Johnson said. “First pitch, guy hits it off the bleacher and every pitch after that I just struggled to find the strike zone. AFter that home run, there was nothing hard hit so that’s a positive. Most of it was stuff I can control — hitting a batter, walking two people. We’ll learn from it and get better from it.”
Johnson said his shoulder troubles popped up in training camp.
“I thought I was going to fight through it,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I thought it was just some shoulder fatigue. It kind of snowballed into me being my best self on the mound and not as confident. I went on the shelf and it wound up being a longer stint than I thought it was going to be.
“I came back last week and got thrown right back into it. I had three appearances last week and felt fine. Then I had a pretty tough outing (Tuesday). Those will humble you. You realize where you need to work and the areas you need to focus on. I’ll use (Tuesday) as a learning experience and will try to build back in a better way.”
The tendonitis hurt the most as his arm decelerated after throwing a pitch and some as he took his arm back during windups.
“It was enough to keep me out for sometime,” Johnson said. “I want to thank Jamie (Rockers manager Jamie Keffe) and Frank (pitching coach Frank Viola) for keeping me on the DL until I was 100% because pitching at 100 precent is my only way out of here. They made sure I was right.
“With tendonitis there’s no set time (for recovery). I took 10 days off and maybe jumped back into things earlier than I should have. I wasn’t feeling bad, but I was progressing. There were some obstacles, like scheduling live at-bats when they were on the road and building my own program. We got that figured out, threw a couple of live sessions and felt good. This last week I’ve felt good. I just have to learn from that last outing.”
Johnson originally thought he would return after four weeks but he wasn’t ready and remained sidelined for another two.
“I just wasn’t there yet,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, we had enough arms to cover for me. I told some of the guys that I need to get the rest of the bullpen guys something for covering me. It put more pressure on them having one less arm.”
Despite all of the travails of this season, Johnson is overjoyed that he has been able to play for the Rockers. In 37 appearances in 2021, he went 4-0 with a save and a 4.91 ERA. In seven appearances this season, his loss on Tuesday is his only decision and eight runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings puts his ERA at 13.50.
“This is an unbelievable experience,” Johnson said. “After my fifth year at High Point University, I thought I was done with baseball. I knew I wasn’t getting drafted. My volunteer assistant coach called me and said the Rockers had gotten a late start to their season and were signing people.
“So, I decided to show them what I had, and I stuck around all of last year. I’ve learned an incredible amount being Jamie and Frank and all the big-leaguers. Coming from HPU to here and having that experience has been unbelievable.”