ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Second baseman Elliot Johnson is often the forgotten name. He is known as the “player to be named later” in the major seven-player deal in December between the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals that sent James Shields to the Midwest and prospect Wil Myers to the Sunshine State.
Johnson, signed by the Devil Rays as a free agent in 2002, spent three major league seasons with the Rays (2008, 2011 and 2012). Then on Feb. 12, he was sent to the Royals, joining former Rays players Shields and right-hander Wade Davis in new starts.
However, Johnson has made his presence known against his former team … again. On Thursday, in the Royals’ 10-1 victory at Tropicana Field, he went 3 for 4 with one home run and three RBI. For the season, he is hitting .545 (6 for 11) with two home runs and four RBI in three games against the Rays.
How is this for a comparison? Johnson is hitting .202 (17 for 84) with no home runs and three RBI in 39 games against everyone else.
An overlooked man? Hardly. Yes, his former team probably will not forget about him soon.
“It’s good to get them any way you can but it feels good to get them against them, of course,” said Johnson, who is hitting .242 for the season. “It’s hard to describe the first time back. I wish everyone would get a chance to understand what it’s like. But it’s really even hard to put into words.”
Of course, Shields’ return to Tropicana Field was more decorated. Halfway through the second inning, the Rays played a video montage honoring the workhorse right-hander who was a face of Tampa Bay’s rise from an American League East also-ran to a contender. He will not pitch in this four-game series, but this time is a “welcome home” of sorts for him.
Meanwhile, Johnson is less known. He hit .223 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI in 200 games with the Rays. He said the game didn’t hold extra meaning for him, but his own homecoming continued a strong power display against his former club.
“We’ve really elevated his numbers a bit,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “To his credit, he’s really done well against us.”
Specifically, Johnson has done well against Jeremy Hellickson. Both his home runs this season have come off fastballs from the Rays right-hander, the first happening in a victory over the Rays on May 1 at Kauffman Stadium. Another stark comparison: Johnson’s home runs have come in five at-bats against Hellickson; meanwhile, he has no home runs in 90 at-bats against everyone else.
“Every time he plays against these guys,” Kansas City right-hander Ervin Santana said, “anything can happen.”
Here is what happened Thursday: Johnson’s three hits were a season-high. By the eighth inning, after a single off reliever Jake Odorizzi, he was confident enough to respond to a heckler in the stands who jawed at Royals players throughout the night.
This homecoming was a success. By the end, Johnson had earned the final word.
“I let him know that I didn’t appreciate what he was saying,” Johnson said.
The Royals, however, appreciated him. Some welcome home.