Count Jacksonville Suns manager Andy Barkett among those impressed by Erik Johnson on Saturday night.
"That's one of the best starts I've seen in this league in three years," Barkett said of the Birmingham Barons right-hander. "That guy had complete control of the game, had a great tempo and threw strikes."
Johnson allowed four hits and struck out seven without walking a batter over seven innings as the Barons blanked the Suns, 3-0, to become the first Southern League team to reach 30 wins this season.
The White Sox No. 3 prospect lowered his ERA to 2.15, which ranks third in the 10-team league. He leads the circuit with a 0.92 WHIP.
"That was a pretty good day at the park," Johnson admitted.
The 23-year-old right-hander, selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft, missed the first half of the 2012 season due to shoulder fatigue. He hasn't missed a beat this season, sitting third in the league with 58 strikeouts over 58 2/3 innings. And in 10 starts, he's issued only 15 walks.
Facing a Jacksonville team that's in second place in the South Division, Johnson (4-2) needed only 11 pitches to get through the opening inning and retired the first seven batters.
"It was nice to have a good start to the game, especially with that first inning," he said. "It's always nice to have a quick inning, no matter what inning it is. That keeps your pitch count down and that allows you to go deeper into games."
Audy Ciriaco singled with one out in the third for the Suns' first hit, but Johnson retired the next two hitters -- top Marlins prospects Noah Perio and Christian Yelich -- to get out of the inning. After allowing another single to Mark Canha in the fourth, he recorded seven consecutive outs.
"You know what the biggest thing for me was? First-pitch strikes," Johnson said. "Every hitter, whether it be a fastball or an off-speed pitch, I was going for a first-pitch strike. Working ahead and getting ahead early really helped me in the long run."
In fact, Johnson missed the strike zone on the first pitch to only five batters, and he never missed with a first pitch twice in the same inning. His only trouble came in the seventh, when Kyle Jensen hit a leadoff single and Zack Cox poked a grounder through the right side with one out. With runners at the corners, Johnson retired Marlins No. 9 prospect J.T. Realmuto and Ryan Fisher to end the threat.
"They're a good hitting team, but I was still working ahead to a lot of those hitters [late in the game]," he said. "They just put some good swings on the ball."
Johnson attributed his immediate success at Double-A to the hard work he put in during the offseason and to the development of one pitch in particular.
"I feel like my changeup is one of my better pitches in my repertoire," the University of California product said. "I've worked hard to get it where it is and I'm comfortable throwing it. That's what I throw whenever I'm really looking for an out. It's become an out-pitch for me.
"I'm thankful to be off to a healthy start. I did everything in my power to stay as healthy as I can and it definitely feels good to have this start to the season. You just have to take advantage of all the chances you get. If you do the small things right, everything else should follow."
White Sox No. 2 prospect Trayce Thompson was hitless but drew a bases-loaded walk. Marcus Semien, Chicago's 16th-ranked prospect, singled, walked and scored a run.