M.D. Johnson Leads Blue Wahoos To Win

June 8, 2024

written by Bill Vilona

His aunt and her family had not seen the Blue Wahoos’ M.D. Johnson pitch since his collegiate days at Dallas Baptist University.

They made the drive to Pensacola from Waco, Texas to watch Johnson pitch Friday night for the first time in his pro career.

He made sure it was memorable.

In what he later termed his best outing this season, Johnson again delivered superlatives, working six innings, allowing just a first-inning run and helping the Blue Wahoos to a 3-1 victory against the Mississippi Braves to even this week’s series amid a capacity crowd of 5,038 at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The win kept the Blue Wahoos (29-25) within striking distance of the Montgomery Biscuits, who had a rain delayed game Friday and a 2.5 game-lead on the Blue Wahoos for the first half Southern League South Division race.

“I felt good,” said Johnson, after visiting with his aunt, her husband and their children on the field following the game. “I was a little bit off at times. I had the four walks, but really kept the ball on the ground better than I have in all the other starts this year and that really helped.

“What I was trying to do gameplan-wise and executing that, I would say yes, it was my best. The only thing I am upset about is walking four guys. I have to keep the ball in the (strike) zone. It has been my Achilles Heel in pro ball. When I am in the (strike) zone, good things will happen.”

They certainly did just that on Friday. Johnson gave up a game-opening double to David Fletcher, the former Los Angeles Angels veteran who is making a comeback bid as a combo infielder and knuckeball pitcher. Fletcher is set to pitch for the second time this week in Sunday’s series finale.

The M-Braves’ Nacho Alvarez followed with an RBI single. But from that point, Johnson retired the next three batters, striking out the last two in ending the inning. The rest of the way, only one M-Braves hitter got into scoring position through Johnson’s six innings.

The Blue Wahoos bullpen was outstanding again.

Patrick Murphy threw two hitless innings, striking out four and bouncing back from a previous rough night.

Austin Roberts recorded his ninth save, the best in the Southern League, sealing the win by freezing Fletcher with a perfect two-strike pitch for the punchout, then getting Alvarez to fly out to end the game.

Johnson has now allowed just one run in each of his last three starts at Blue Wahoos Stadium. A year ago, his earned run average was dramatically lower in home starts than road starts.

Why so?

“Honestly it’s being home,” said Johnson, who improved to 2-3 on the season with a 2.68 ERA. “Whenever I’m at home, my wife’s here, I have my routine.

“I live in a trailer (in Pensacola).. my house. Being home and having a home base is huge. This is where home is.

“I would love to just take (the trailer) on the road trips and it would be fantastic, but it’s not a realistic thing.”

The Blue Wahoos got their first run when Jacob Berry, who returned to lineup Friday after being out with a minor injury this week, singled to start the second inning, then scored on Harrison Spohn’s two strike single.

In the third inning, Joe Mack reached on a fielder’s choice, advanced on Nathan Martorella’s single, then again to third base when Berry beat out a double-play attempt at first. That was big, because a wild pitch then scored Mack for the second run.

Mack then continued his big week at home with an eighth-inning solo blast to straightaway center that just cleared the wall for his third homer in three days.

The series continues Saturday with the Blue Wahoos’ Paul Campbell (5-1) on the mound against the M-Braves’ Jake McSteen. A limited number of tickets remain on the Fireworks Saturday night.

GAME NOTABLES

— The game was designated as ALS Awareness Night. Representatives from the ALS Association-Florida attended the game, participated in a ceremonial first pitch and were interviewed during the game broadcast.

— There were eight different ceremonial first pitches prior to Friday’s game.

WANT TO GO?

WHO: Mississippi Braves vs. Blue Wahoos

WHEN: Saturday, 6:05 p.m.

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