Erik Johnson was a little hard on himself after matching a career high in strikeouts on Monday.
"I wish my pitch count could have been lower and I could always go deeper in the games," he said. "Having the game I did, I threw a lot of pitches and I wish I could have had them put the ball in play a little more."
He'll have to settle for one of his best games as a pro, though -- the White Sox top pitching prospect fanned 10 over seven innings for his second Double-A win as Birmingham beat Huntsville, 3-1, on Monday afternoon.
"I need to get more contact outs with my pitches and get more ground balls," he said. "But I'll take today how it was. The name of the game is early-contact outs, and I didn't get a lot of those."
True, Johnson threw 99 pitches Monday, a rare number in the Minors, but he also struck out at least one batter every inning and now has 25 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings over his first four Double-A starts.
"I felt good, I felt like I was on the attack. I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and I worked ahead with mutiple pitches," he said. "It was another solid outing for me, so I hope I can keep rolling from here."
Johnson worked around a bumpy first inning in which he had a walk and a wild pitch and settled down to allow three hits over the next five innings. He worked 1-2-3 frames in the sixth and seventh, striking out a pair in his final frame to improve to 2-0.
"My slider was working early and late in the count, which was was nice," he said. "I was throwing my changeups for strikes early, which slows their bats down later so I could throw a hard-breaking pitch like a slider or fastball. They had few lefties in the lineup, but the slider and the changeup and my fastball -- I had a lot pitches going."
The second-round pick in 2011 added a changeup to his resume last fall with Chicago's instructional league. It's an off-speed pitch he's still refining as he feels his way around the Southern League.
"It was something I was developing and working on. I feel like right now, it's a great pitch for me," he said. "I'm throwing it well in my last three starts. It's definitely a weapon you've got to use. Right now I've been throwing it well, so I hope to keep on that track."
Johnson, a 23-year-old drafted out of California, added the change to a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a curveball that helped earn him an early-round selection. With it, he's elevated himself to No. 3 in MLB.com's White Sox's prospect rankings.
"It really helps when you have a nice changeup," he said. "You can complement it with a good fastball and slider."
Sometimes that all equals more strikeouts. His 10 K's were the most by a Barons pitcher since Andre Rienzo fanned 10 Huntsville Stars on July 2, 2012. It was also the fourth time Johnson has pitched seven innings in his career. His last 10-strikeout effort came on Aug. 17, 2012 for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem at Frederick.
The transition to Double-A has been fairly seamless so far. In four starts, the right-hander has allowed three runs on 11 hits and five walks, going at least six innings in three of the four outings. Batters are hitting .126 against the native of Mountain View, Calif.
"In my opinion, I believe it's more about just pitching to the glove. The more you can throw and hit your spots with fastball command and limit the amount of free bases, you're gonna find yourself having success," he said. "Especially being on the attack with early pitches, throwing strikes early, it's all going to benefit you."
Birmingham scored one in the second on a bases-loaded groundout that allowed Andy Wilkins to scramble home. The Barons scored again in the seventh on Mike Early's sacrifice fly and on Wilkins' RBI single in the eighth.
Taylor Jungmann (1-3) took the loss for Huntsville despite allowing just one run on five hits and four walks over six innings.