Erik Johnson should have gone to bed happy Tuesday night.
The White Sox's No. 4 prospect turned in one of the best outings of his young career, allowing three hits over seven shutout innings, but Class A Advanced Winston-Salem dropped a 2-1 decision to Wilmington.
Johnson needed only 78 pitches to produce his longest outing since the White Sox selected him in the second round of last year's Draft. He walked two and struck out six.
"I thought I pitched well, I had four pitches working," he said. "The first time through the order, I was really just working my fastball and slider, but later in the game I was really able to get my curveball going, which is something I have been working on."
After struggling against the same lineup a week ago -- he gave up six runs on six hits over six innings on Aug. 1 -- Johnson said he put a greater emphasis on varying his pitches this time around.
"Every time I go out there, I try to learn something new about myself and pitching in general," the 22-year-old right-hander said. "This week, [I had been working on] getting my third and fourth pitch going, and this time it was my curveball. I think the guys said I threw 13 of my 13 curveballs for strikes, so I think that was a big reason why I was able to go so deep into the game without allowing any runs and so few hits."
Johnson's improved breaking ball received praise from Wilmington manager Vance Wilson.
"He throws strikes," Wilson said. "We were going to try to be aggressive, [but] he had a lot of action on his pitches. ... When a guy's doing that and you're aggressive, you're going to make contact, but it's not going to be good contact. For the most part, he went right after us and got contact into the ground or it was the off-speed and we were out in front and [hitting] popups."
Instead of picking up his second win in four Carolina League starts, Johnson came away with no decision as the Blue Rocks scored a pair of unearned runs in the ninth off closer Terance Marin (5-4).
A two-out wild pitch sent pinch-runner Luis Piterson to second before a dropped fly ball by usually sure-handed center fielder Trayce Thompson plated Piterson with the tying run. The miscue was Thompson's first in 55 games since May 31.
Angel Franco followed with an RBI double to score Murray Watts and snap the Dash's four-game winning streak.
"That little ball will do funny things to you," Wilson said. "Thompson's a great player. He's a good kid, he works hard. He'll never do that again, I can guarantee it."
Johnson said the difficult loss will not diminish his team's confidence.
"There were a few things we need to clean up," he said, "but nothing that can't be fixed."
Wilmington starter Elisaul Pimentel matched Johnson for five innings, limiting the Dash to two hits and two walks while striking out six. Matt Ridings (4-1) gave up Cyle Hankerd's 14th homer but nothing else over four frames to get the win.