Brian Johnson (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first spring training start is usually forgotten.
Sure, there was Boston College’s Johnny Ayers hitting a first-pitch double against Daisuke Matsuzaka (having heard the pitcher proclaim he would be throwing a fastball for his first pitch as a Red Sox). That will always be the be-all, end-all spring training debut tale.
But most of the outings are along the line of 2016, when Sean O’Sullivan got the nod.
This year, however, there is something special about the honor of kicking off the exhibition season. At least that’s the case for Brian Johnson.
The lefty was informed Tuesday that he will be getting the nod to start against Northeastern Thursday.
“Yeah, just because it’s my first time being around each other feeling good. Knowing whether it goes good or bad, I still feel like myself,” said Johnson when asked if this start might be special for him.
Two years ago, spring training was where Johnson truly got on the Red Sox’ major league radar, leaving camp as a legitimate option if one of the chief members of the starting rotation was sidelined. But then came an elbow injury, which ultimately led to an uncomfortable major league debut on July 21, 2015 in Houston (4 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks in 4 1/3 innings).
And, finally, there was the anxiety issues that derailed his season at Triple-A Pawtucket, making him restart his season for nearly two months.
“This all started for me when that elbow injury happened,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I should say something. I knew I was on the cusp of getting called up. I have no feeling in my hand. I’m having to change arm slots in terms of knowing where the ball is going in the sense of being able to feel my hand. If you throw one, sometimes it felt like I was hitting my funny bone. I was thinking, ‘Is it going to be numb? What pitch is it going to do it on? Is it going to be in first inning, or the fourth inning?’ I never got comfortable and I always had that in the back of my head. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
“Without a doubt it’s good to get back on the mound, especially after an up and down year last year. It’s good to get back out there.”
After Johnson pitches two innings, Jamie Callahan will come in for relief against the Huskies. The Red Sox will then send out Henry Owens to pitch the Grapefruit League opener against the Mets Friday at JetBlue Park, followed by Roenis Elias vs. the Twins in another home tilt.