Chris Johnson hasn't had much cause to feel frazzled this season. And when adverse situations arise, one of the oldest tricks in the pitching handbook does the job.
"When things start getting hectic," the Giants prospect said, "I like to take a step off and take a couple deep breaths. It calms me down and lets me go back on the mound and pitch without thinking too much."
On the other hand, Johnson gave the Hops plenty to consider in short-season Salem-Keizer's 7-2 victory at Hillsboro on Saturday night. He struck out seven over six scoreless innings, scattering five hits without walking a batter and hitting one.
"I was able to move my fastball in and out," he said. "I had good command of my slider and my changeup and I felt I could throw them in almost any count."
The 21-year-old right-hander improved to 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA that ranks fifth in the Northwest League. He's unscored upon in three of his four starts for the first-place Volcanoes.
"I've been throwing really well. It's a really good feeling being able to locate all my pitches well," Johnson said. "I'd say that's been the key to my success."
Selected by the Giants in the 17th round of last year's Draft out of the University of Portland, he pitched 48 2/3 innings for Salem-Keizer after signing. A Washington native, Johnson has enjoyed feeling like a hometown player wherever the Volcanoes have traveled.
"Today, we were 20 minutes outside of Portland, so a lot of friends and former teammates from college come out. It's pretty special," he said. "Actually, I think every game, people I know from college or from growing up have been able to come out. It's definitely been fun."
Over 24 innings this season, Johnson has allowed four runs, three of them earned. And all four game against Boise in a six-inning stint on June 19.
"In that one, I wasn't too sharp," he said. "I wasn't quite locating my fastball, and my off-speed stuff was hit or miss. But I have to give them credit, too. They were putting good swings on the ball and hitting it to gaps."
On Saturday, the Volcanoes staked Johnson to the lead before he threw his first pitch. And they didn't let up.
"That was awesome. They put up a three-spot in the first and scored a couple other runs in the innings after that," he said. "That took the pressure off and allowed me to not focus on anything but attacking the zone."
Johnson pitched around a hit in the bottom of the first while recording two of the eight ground-ball outs he totaled.
"I'm at my best when I'm throwing my two-seam fastball down and getting guys to roll over on it," he said. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher and strikeouts are a bonus. When things are going well for me, I'm getting a lot of ground balls."
Johnson ran into trouble in the third. After Taylor Ratliff led off with a single and George Roberts was hit by a pitch with one out, Zachary Esquerra struck out on a changeup in the dirt, but both runners advanced on a double-steal.
"Things happened really quick there," Johnson said. "Before I knew it, there were runners on second and third."
That's when he stepped off the mound for a breather, then retired Jordan Parr on a foul pop.
"I went back to what I was doing before and I was able to bear down," he said. "I'd say not letting them score there was a pretty big turning point in the game."
When Johnson came back out for the fourth, he struck out the side.
"That was really big for me. Getting out of the last inning gave me momentum," he said. "I felt really good, like I could throw anything for strikes and Geno [[Volcanoes catcher Geno Escalante] was calling a really good game. From that point on, I felt like I was really in control."
Salem-Keizer's Opening Night pitcher yielded a bunt single in the fifth and struck out the side again in the sixth.
"There've been a couple starts early on, where in the sixth, I got out unscathed, but I could feel myself getting a bit more tired," he said. "Today, I felt good and I think that will continue going forward, building up my pitch count more as the season goes on."
Johnson doesn't have any particular expectations for the rest of the year, however.
"I'm just keeping it low right now, taking it one day at a time," he said. "I just want to keep doing what I'm doing and not deviate from my strengths as a pitcher."
Brandon Bednar, the Giants' 2013 seventh-round pick, collected three hits and scored a run for the Volcanoes, while 12th-rounder Jeremy Sy homered, doubled and drove in four runs.
For Hillsboro, Ratliff finished 3-for-5 with a stolen base.