Griffin: Jays' Kelly Johnson among AL second base leaders
BALTIMORE-At the moment that Kelly Johnson switched leagues last August, coming over to the AL and the Blue Jays from the Diamondbacks in trade for Aaron Hill and John McDonald, he seemed intimidated and disturbed by reports of the aggressive approach of the Jays under batting coach Dwayne Murphy. Go after pitches early in the count if it's your best pitch, was the team's mantra handed down from former skipper Cito Gaston. Johnson insisted that he did not want to change his patience-first approach of going deep into at-bats and putting himself in good hitter's counts. He found out he had overreacted.
“It's the same game," Johnson shrugged. "There's differences with the pitcher hitting in the NL, that's always going to break up something and it's going to be different. You can go both ways. If you're a guy that takes a lot of pitches sometimes it's good for you to go up and have a little bit more aggressive personality and vice-versa.
"But I just worried last year coming over about my own stuff, having a new set of ears and people looking at me, a new set of eyes trying to help me get back on track. That time last year and spring training this year, and even now, that's been huge for me. Like I said, we all have our strengths. Why get out of them. Let's just try and stay in them."
Early on at spring training, manager John Farrell made his decision and inserted the patient left-handed hitting second baseman into the two-hole in the Jays' batting order. Other than a few games late in camp where he flipped Johnson and leadoff man Yunel Escobar, it's where the 30-year-old has batted every game he has played for the Jays this year.
It's still early in 2012, but Johnson thus far has inserted himself into conversations among the elite offensive second baseman in the AL. His average remains pedestrian and he struggled to hit at the Rogers Centre on the first homestand, but entering Wednesday's action at Camden Yards, the lefthanded hitter ranks second at his position to the Rangers' Ian Kinsler in OPS, home runs and runs scored, while leading all AL second basemen with 14 bases-on-balls. Recall that second base has become an elite AL offensive position, with players like Robinson Cano, Duston Pedria, Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick.
"We all go through stretches," Johsnon said with humility. "A lot of things in offence in baseball are streaks and it's about managing those streaks, whether it's bad or good.
"You stay what you are and who you are and those streaks are the same year-in, year-out, just having deep counts and having some times where I draw a lot of walks is just one of those things. I'm going to try and be consistent the best I can. That's just a goal of mine."
Meanwhile, Johnson's work defensively at second base, especially as the trigger-man, the pivot on double plays, has drawn rave reviews from observers, among them Jays' infield coach Brian Butterfield and his manager, Farrell. Johnson has been in on 17 double plays in 17 games. The next highest AL totals are 13 by Robert Andino and Jemile Weeks.
“That hasn't surprised me at all," Farrell said. "All our reports were very consistent with that area and you look at this past series in Kansas City and he had a number of chances to do just that. He's very accurate. He's efficient with his movements and every infielder, particularly the left side, they know when they throw the ball to him it's got a chance to be turned. He's really solidified the middle of our defence."
Johnson was not expected to be in Toronto. He became a free agent in the off-season and the Jays offered him arbitration in order to get a compensatory draft pick. He surprised them by exploring the free-agent landscape then deciding his best option was in accepting the Jays' one-year offer. Thus far, neither side regrets the head-scratching decision.