As it's still just the dawn of the two-way player era, there remains something exciting about seeing a pitcher hit a home run. On Friday night, it was Double-A Richmond starter Jordan Johnson who was able to provide some fireworks for a franchise-record crowd of 9,845.
The Giants' No. 29 prospect yielded three hits and a walk with five strikeouts over six scoreless innings and helped himself with his first professional homer as the Flying Squirrels defeated Reading, 3-1, at The Diamond. Johnson's blast came off Phillies No. 8 prospect JoJo Romero.
Gameday box score
The right-hander spent all of last season in the Eastern League, going 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA and 65 strikeouts over 92 1/3 innings. He lasted 3 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on two hits with five walks and five strikeouts in his 2018 debut against Trenton.
"It's good for him to go out with an outing like tonight after his first outing, which I'm sure he wasn't very pleased with," Richmond manager Willie Harris said. "To come back tonight, bounce back on Opening Night here at our home ballpark, I'm sure it's a good confidence-booster for him."
Video: Richmond's Johnson works out of jam with K
Friday's start was the first in which Johnson pitched six scoreless innings since May 7, 2016 with Class A Advanced San Jose.
"What he had working tonight, first of all, he established his fastball," Harris said. "He never really got away from his fastball. He pounded the strike zone tonight with his fastball."
The 24-year-old retired the first six batters, two by strikeout, before walking to Heiker Meneses to open the third. He struck out the next two batters and got Zach Coppola to line out and end the inning.
Malquin Canelo started the fourth with an infield single and reached second on a throwing error by shortstop Ryan Howard. Johnson wriggled out of trouble with a 1-3-5 double play and erased a Kyle Martin single by striking out Jiandido Tromp to close the fourth.
Johnson got through a 1-2-3 fifth and came to bat with Matt Lipka on first and one out against Romero in the home half of the frame. The Reading left-hander threw over to first three times before delivering a pitch, picking off Lipka on his final attempt. The righty-swinging Johnson lifted Romero's second offering over the fence in left for a solo shot.
"When he hit the home run, I was looking at the lineup card in my hand, just thinking ahead a little bit and I heard the sound -- and I know that sound anywhere," said Harris, who spent 12 seasons in the big leagues. "It sounded good off his bat, man, and it was a bomb."
Video: Richmond's Johnson helps his own cause with homer
The homer was the first by a Flying Squirrels pitcher since Matt Gage -- Saturday's starter -- went deep against Reading on July 4, 2016.
"I mean, pitchers have the little saying that follows them, like, they can't hit," Harris said. "But [Johnson] has a really good swing, man, and he was able to help his cause tonight. That run gave us some cushion and turned out to be a big run for us."
The Cal State Northridge product returned to the mound and got two quick outs in the sixth before retiring Damek Tomscha to work around a two-out base hit to left by Canelo. Johnson (1-1) threw 53 of 82 pitches for strikes.
Giants No. 7 prospect Aramis Garcia walked twice in three plate appearances and was lifted for a pinch-runner after suffering an apparent finger injury on a slide into third in the sixth inning. Harris said he was awaiting X-ray results and did not know the extent of the injury.
Romero (0-2) was tagged for three earned runs on four hits and three walks with a pair of strikeouts over five innings.