KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Micah Johnson was equal parts high ceiling and jittery rookie in his major league debut Monday.
The winner of the Chicago White Sox's Opening Day second-base job showed everything the club hoped it would see and everything that concerned it, all in one day of work.
The pluses: A 13-pitch at-bat in his first trip to the plate as a major leaguer in the third inning. The at-bat ended in a fly out to left field, but the ability to see so many pitches was a plus. Then there was his first career hit, a looping single into center field in the sixth inning.
The minuses: Getting picked off first base right after that first career hit. And there were his stumbles on defense, such as his inability to cleanly field a ground ball in the fifth inning that went for one out instead of a double play. There also was an odd play in the seventh inning when Alexei Ramirez cut in front of Johnson on the second-base side of the bag and neither made the play as the Royals scored two runs.
It was no surprise that the game found Johnson as he made his major league debut, and the mixed bag of results was no shock, either.
“I just wanna play,” Johnson said, admitting that it was good to get the first game out of the way. “All the hoopla is over with and the first game’s out of the way and all the excitement now, it’s just baseball.
“I wasn’t nervous before. I just realized it was baseball season and I’m truly blessed to be here. That’s all it was. I just enjoyed it and obviously I wish the outcome would’ve come out a different way, but we have 161 more to work on stuff and get rolling.”
Inserted in the No. 9 spot in the lineup as a complementary piece to Adam Eaton once the lineup circles around, Johnson looked every bit the leadoff type when he went to 3-and-2 in his first at-bat and started fouling off pitches. Even when his at-bat ended with an out, it was still considered a successful trip to the plate.
“Micah's first at-bat was a great one,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think that's part of what you really like seeing out of him. There's more of that to come. He did a lot of that in spring training. I know it caught the attention of a lot of people, but that's what we expect out of him and I know he expects that out of himself.”
Johnson was one of the few White Sox hitters to get under the skin of Royals starter Yordano Ventura, who hardly blinked on a day when he gave up one run on four hits in six innings. He eventually left the game with a thumb cramp, not long after Jose Abreu touched him for a home run to left field.
“Yeah, he did well; he didn’t give in,” Johnson said of his duel with Ventura. “He was getting frustrated and we were just battling. It was awesome. He just kept pounding me in and throwing strikes. I didn’t want to cheat and have him throw me an offspeed pitch and be out in front. I just stayed with my approach and he stuck with his. It was a battle, but yeah, good at-bats today.”
Eaton got a good look at the at-bat from his spot on deck and likes what he sees in his new running mate.
“He’s learning every day, and that was a learning moment there,” Eaton said. “We’ll continue to move forward, but what we’re seeing from him is what we knew he could do and he’s going to do it day in and day out, not just the first day. He’ll do it 162-plus, so we’re rooting for him.”
As for the mix-up with Ramirez, it was an awkward play, but one both players vow to fix. The fact that Johnson also is fluent in Spanish will help with that kind of learning curve.
“We have very good communication,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “That play, it was a tough play and it’ll happen. We’ve been on the same page through spring training, but this time, it wasn’t good for us.”
In the end, Johnson not only is glad his first game is out of the way, but his first hit as well.
“You want to get it out of the way early; you don’t want to have that pressure or stuff on you,” Johnson said. “But it was good. I had that good first at-bat, the result didn’t end up the way I wanted, but that’s my job to work the pitcher as best I can and have a competitive at-bat.”