Ideally, Erik Johnson would like to swap out walks for hits. In the box score for his start Tuesday night, he'd rather look at a four in the hits column than the four that appeared in the walks column.
"To be honest, I would," he said. "I'm not a big fan of free bases. I'd rather give up an earned base than a free base any time."
Instead, the White Sox's top pitching prospect had to settle for posting five no-hit innings with five strikeouts in Double-A Birmingham's 10-0 thrashing of Jacksonville. The win followed on the heels of the Barons' first-half title clinching.
"It's nice to see, because you know what kind of guys are on this team," Johnson said. "Even though we clinched yesterday, everybody comes out and plays hard each game. No matter what happened the day before, every guy plays hard."
The University of California product has been stellar this season after missing half of 2012 with shoulder fatigue. Tuesday's win improved his record to 7-2, and his ERA is 2.37. He's strung together five consecutive wins, including a game in which he tossed seven shutout innings against the same Suns team. He wasn't thinking about his previous success against Jacksonville in this start, though.
"They have a lot of talented hitters on that team, and a few hot hitters that've had some good games against us in this series," he said. "I just worry about what I'm doing, about working ahead, trying to get early soft contact. I'm always looking to get ahead and stay ahead, every time I'm pitching to a new guy. I had a little trouble doing that tonight. But I focused on winning 1-1 counts, and that worked for me."
The first baserunner Johnson permitted came as a two-out walk in the second, but he followed it by fanning Miami eighth-ranked prospect J.T. Realmuto.
Marlins' No. 2 prospect Jake Marisnick, who left the game after running into the center-field wall in the sixth, reached on an error in the third, but Johnson didn't have any real trouble until the next inning, when he walked the Suns' Kyle Jensen and Aaron Dudley.
"I wasn't working ahead and I got behind. I needed to refocus, really, is what that was about," he said.
Having pulled himself together, Johnson induced a ground ball -- one of his five -- off the bat of Mark Canha for a double play.
"Even when [Jensen] got on with a walk, I was looking to get a ground ball [from Dudley]," Johnson said. "Then with [Canha], I was looking to go inside and get a ground ball. Ground balls are always better than fly balls, especially with runners on base. I've been doing a good job working the ball down in zone. Especially with the defense I've got, I've enjoyed letting them do the work."
The pitcher then surrendered another walk -- this one to Ryan Fisher -- but then got Realmuto to bounce to short.
He worked a perfect fifth, but his night was done after 83 pitches with his team leading 8-0.
"I've been throwing quite a bit of innings lately," he said, "and with the score what it was at that point, I'd go to the bullpen too."
Johnson handed the game over to White Sox No. 18 prospect Santos Rodriguez, who struck out four and gave up one hit over two innings. Rodriguez's ERA stands at 2.33, and he's part of a Barons bullpen that has kept Birmingham undefeated -- 36-0 -- when leading after six innings.
"You have to commend all the parts of the team. Starting pitching is doing great job and the bullpen is doing very well too," he said. "You have to give credit to the defense and the bats as well. It's a great, complete team."
Of Rodriguez, Johnson said, "He comes in and throws his fastball well. He's a left-handed guy who has good stuff and who will go right after you with that stuff. It's great to have a guy like that in the bullpen."
Trayce Thompson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect, homered, plated two runs and scored twice. Marcus Semien, the organization's 16th-ranked prospect, also scored twice, having reached based three times. It was on a homer off the bat of Andy Wilkins that Marisnick ran into the wall.
His injuries did not appear serious.
"We got him out of there. He got banged up. His was a little bit contused and felt like a dead leg, so to speak," said Jacksonville manager Andy Barkett. "I talked to our trainer after the game, and he got seen by a doctor. Basically, it was kind of like a funny bone-type thing, where you bang your elbow really hard and kind of lose feeling in it for a little bit. But he came and he iced up. He should be fine. I don't foresee him missing much time, if any at all."