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Matthew Johnson Welcomed Back in Vancouver

Matthew Johnson Welcomed Back in Vancouver

July 29, 2013

Matt Johnson

After opening the 2013 season in the Midwest League with the Lansing Lugnuts, right-handed reliever Matthew Johnson was shipped out to the Vancouver Canadians last month to pitch in their season opener on June 14. It was a return to familiar ground for Johnson, who spent all of last season in Vancouver.

Johnson’s journey in the Blue Jays’ minor league system has been an interesting one, as he began his professional career as a position player that could play all four infield positions. That was until midway through last season, when Canadians manager Clayton McCullough asked Johnson to switch to pitching.

“When Clayton asked me to come into his office,” Johnson recalls, “I was worried I was being released, but he just smiled and said ‘we want you to become a pitcher’.”

Even though he only switched to pitching last year, Johnson actually pitched in one game out of emergency two years ago when he was with the Bluefield Blue Jays. The overall transition to pitching has worked out well so far, as Johnson is finding success in the Canadians’ bullpen, having managed a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings of work this season.

“The transition to pitching was interesting, but I enjoy it.” he said. “I like being on the mound. I definitely enjoy pitchers’ fielding practice. It makes me feel more at home, but the coaching staff we have make the transition as easy as possible. They help me with my arm maintenance and they take good care of me.”

Signed by the Blue Jays in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of the College of Wooster in Ohio, Johnson was excited to play professional baseball and make his debut.

“I was extremely excited,” he recalls. “I really had no idea that I would have an opportunity to continue my baseball career after the draft. When I got the phone call, I wanted to talk to my Dad right away.”

“I spent four years at the College of Wooster. Great school, great program it’s a beautiful campus and a really good team too. Coach Pettorini and Coach Craddock always do a great job with the players.”

Pitching in 14 games for Vancouver last season, Johnson went 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings of work. Last season was particularly important to the Ohio native, because he was a part of a club that won the Northwest League Championship.

“I love Vancouver. It’s probably my favorite city,” he said. “We won the championship, so you know what victory tastes like. I missed the 2011 championship because I was playing in Bluefield at that time, so to be part of one was special.”

Johnson missed some time in Lansing with an injury early in the season, but he still made nine appearances before returning to the Northwest League. Learning from Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman in Lansing was an opportunity Johnson spoke highly of.

“I enjoyed working with Vince Horsman. You just want to listen and take down everything he says because it holds so much weight and value to it,” the 25-year-old said. “You just hope to retain some of that information and use it towards your own career.”

Despite a small sample size, Johnson noted the differences between the hitters in the Midwest League and those from his first stint in Vancouver.

“The hitters in the Midwest League are more fastball ready than in the Northwest League,” he said. “They have a better approach, whether it’s sitting on an outside fastball or a pitch inside. Their approach is just a little more polished.”

When he’s out there on the mound, Johnson boasts a three-pitch repertoire — not bad for someone still new to pitching.

“I throw a fastball, slider, and changeup,” he said. “My fastball is usually between 92 and 94 miles per hour.”

Watch for Johnson and the rest of the Vancouver Canadians as they look to win the Northwest League Championship for the third year in a row.

Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford

Brian has covered professional baseball for eight seasons for numerous media outlets.
Brian Crawford