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Erik Johnson yet to reveal pitching identity

CHICAGO -- After two major league starts, the Chicago White Sox still won’t pass judgment on right-hander Erik Johnson.

It’s hard to get a proper read on a pitcher when the defense keeps letting you down. Miscues galore Tuesday left Johnson with six runs allowed, but only two runs were earned over 3 2/3 innings in an eventual 9-1 defeat to the Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox made four errors, three by third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

In his major league debut last week at Yankee Stadium, Johnson gave up five runs, but only three were earned.

“Yeah, it’s hard to sit there and assess that,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. “When you’re playing clean behind him, it could be a different story. It’s hard to judge. But, again, some of the swings guys are having against him, it looks pretty good.”

Johnson’s minor league numbers certainly suggest a pitcher with plenty of promise, and two defense-challenged outings in the major leagues won’t detract from that. He went a combined 12-3 during 24 starts between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 1.96 ERA.

Those numbers, and not the two rocky outings over a six-day stretch with the White Sox, are the reason he is expected to compete for a rotation spot at spring training next year.

“He threw fine,” Ventura said. “We didn’t help him at all, but he was fine. Pitch count-wise -- if we’re making a few plays here and there -- it’s probably a different story. [Tigers starter Rick] Porcello, he kind of scattered his hits. For Detroit, they bunched together and scored some runs and it was ugly.”

Pitching, though, isn’t always about being set up under the ideal conditions, and Johnson knows he could have been better when the heat started to rise.

“I had some tough breaks out there, but I thought I attacked the zone as best I could,” he said. “I thought I could have worked ahead of a few more hitters, of course, and put myself in a better situation.”

Despite leaving in the fourth inning, Johnson still threw 96 pitches while facing 23 batters. By comparison, the White Sox bullpen faced 24 batters over 5 1/3 innings, throwing 74 pitches.

“Being more efficient is always a goal of the starting pitcher,” Johnson said. “Go as far as you can for as long as you can. Tonight that wasn’t the case.”

Assuming the six-man rotation remains in place, Johnson will get another shot to reveal his true identity Monday at home against the Minnesota Twins.