Kris Johnson pitches during an intrasquad scrimmage in spring training on Feb. 27, in Fort Myers, Fla.
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
MINNEAPOLIS — Kris Johnson doesn’t anticipate he’ll have many nerves when he takes the mound for his Minnesota Twins debut in the second game of a doubleheader Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After all, he has his first major league experience under his belt.
Johnson made one start for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season and appeared in three more games as a reliever in what has so far been his only time in the big leagues. He was 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in those four appearances, which spanned a total of 10 1/2 innings.
With the Twins in need of a starting pitcher for Thursday’s doubleheader, they called up Johnson from Triple-A Rochester, where the 29-year-old left-hander was 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA. Johnson arrived in Minneapolis before Wednesday’s game, meaning he’ll get to sit through two games before making his 2014 debut.
"It’s still the same thing. I’ve got to get ready just like any other game," Johnson said.
Pitching in the first game of Thursday’s twinbill is right-hander Mike Pelfrey, who happens to know Johnson well. The two were college teammates for two years at Wichita State in 2004 and 2005.
During the 2004 season, Pelfrey and Johnson were a formidable 1-2 punch for the Shockers. Pelfrey was 11-2 with a 2.18 ERA, while Johnson was 7-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 11 starts. Though they were reunited for a while during spring training, the former college teammates are now teammates in the big leagues.
"I (spent) two years with that goof, and we were 1-2 in 2005 before I got injured," Johnson said of Pelfrey. "It’s good to get back with your old college teammates and kind of rekindle the rivalry we had within our own team."
Johnson’s time with the Twins will likely be brief, as he’s expected to head back to Rochester after making his start Thursday. He’ll do so with his second career big league start to his name. Johnson’s only other start was against the St. Louis Cardinals last September. He allowed five runs on seven hits in just two innings of work.
"I think it was just a bunch of nerves and jitters," Johnson said Wednesday. "It’s one thing as a kid you always grow up and you want to be a big league starting pitcher. I finally got that chance, and I think just let that moment get too big for me. So I’m going to take that as a learning experience and use it tomorrow."
Johnson didn’t make any starts for the Twins in spring training, but he did enough to catch the attention of manager Ron Gardenhire. In seven innings of work this spring, Johnson did not allow a run and surrendered just five hits.
When it came time for Minnesota to promote a starter from Rochester for Thursday’s game, Johnson was the easy pick.
"He was the recommended guy," Gardenhire said. "He’s throwing the ball well. He threw the ball good in spring training, so we’ll see how he does."
Twins, Dodgers hoping to avoid makeup game: Bad weather Tuesday forced Minnesota and Los Angeles to postpone the first game of their three-game series, rescheduling it as part of a day-night doubleheader on Thursday. Forecasts call for more rain on Wednesday and Thursday, however, which could potentially lead to the two teams having to postpone another game to be played at a later date.
This is the only time the Dodgers come to Target Field this year, so the hope is that all three games will be played before Los Angeles leaves town. If not, they’ll have to fly back to Minnesota for one game, a scenario that doesn’t do any favors for anyone involved.
"The team that has to fly back in, that’s not very much fun," Gardenhire said. "That’s terrible to fly into a city for one game and get right back on the plane. You don’t even go to a hotel most of the time — It’s a whirlwind."
Minnesota already had to postpone a game with Detroit for a later date, which has yet to be set. And the Twins and Blue Jays played a doubleheader after one game of that series was postponed. Last year, Minnesota hosted the Miami Marlins in April and had a game postponed. The Twins then traveled to Miami in June, which seemed to make little sense from a scheduling perspective.
Instead of loading the early portion of the Twins’ home schedule with conference opponents — who return several times throughout the year if a makeup game is needed — Minnesota again is hosting plenty of opponents that come to Minneapolis just once a year. That includes the Dodgers this week.
"We all talk about it," Gardenhire said. "I guess with this interleague and all that stuff, it’s made the scheduling even harder. I think that has a big part in it."
Gardenhire weighs in on pine tar: After Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the league will wait until the end of the season to re-examine its rules on the use of pine tar.
Nights like Wednesday at Target Field, when the temperatures could dip into the 30s during the game between the Twins and Dodgers, is a prime example of when pitchers might need a little extra help to get a grip on the baseball. Gardenhire was asked Wednesday if he would be in favor of pitchers using pine tar to help their grip — not necessarily to gain an extra advantage over a hitter.
"It’s not like it’s new," Gardenhire said. "Hitters get grips. If you tell a hitter he can’t put pine tar on his bat, more than likely you’re going to have a lot of bats flying in the stands. If you tell pitchers that they can’t use pine tar, there might be balls flying in the stands off the mound. Grips are important in the game."