As the first few weeks of the 2020 season unfolded the question kept getting asked: Why not Brian Johnson?
The lefty had somewhat surprisingly not made the 30-man Opening Day roster, leaving him to spend his days at the Red Sox' alternate site. All the while the Sox' starters were putting up historically bad numbers with Ron Roenicke's team plummeting in the standings.
As it turned out, Johnson was as curious as anyone.
"I would be lying if I said there was not some sort of fire in my stomach," the pitcher said while appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast. "I feel like I'm pitching well enough to at least get a chance. But, like I said, everyone has their reasoning or their thought process on how things go. I just wasn't in the plans in the sense that I felt ... That's how I felt. That's why I felt doing what I did was the best opportunity for me. Obviously I didn't get picked up. If I stay with the Red Sox, who knows? Maybe I do get called up. I just felt at that point of time that's the decision I made."
Sixteen pitchers would ultimately get starts for the Red Sox in 2020, but none of them were Johnson.
The career momentum he had built during the Red Sox' World Series run in 2018 was thought to be back on track after illness and injury derailed 2019. After participating in the first spring training as a non-roster invite it appeared Johnson was back to his form of two seasons before. And Spring Training 2.0 seemed promising enough.
But 10 days into August Johnson requested and was granted his release, heading back home to Florida looking for a better chance with an organization other than the one that drafted him the first-round back in 2012.
"It sucks because there have been so many ups and downs in my career with the Red Sox," he said. "I said this years ago, they've helped me so much in a lot of ways. I felt guilty doing it. But at what point in time do you have to do what is right, that you feel is right for you. I felt like I hit that breaking point where doing what I was doing wasn't what I wanted. So I made the decision.
"My first one (at Pawtucket) wasn't great, and I let a little of my mental anger or bitterness or frustration kind of get the best of me. Because I went down and I had to throw a couple of days later. That was childish of me and I shouldn't have let that affect my outing. But my second was better, my third was even better and my fourth one was even better. I just kept getting better and better. I felt better. My velocity was better.
"If I was ever going to be a free agent after the back-to-back ones I had that was the best time. The problem was that there are no scouts at the intra-squad games. I'm trying to get video but I'm splicing together clips and I don't know if this is what people want to see. ... Once I left the site you have to quarantine again. You go somewhere and that's three days not throwing. I know everyone says that but 2020 is a weird year. Being a free agent, no one really had answers. Not teams, not my agents, not me. It was just let's take a risk and see what happens."
For whatever reason, it the gamble didn't pay off for 2020. But with his track record from 2018 -- in which he made 13 starts, finishing with a 4.17 ERA in 38 total appearances -- the current free agent is viewing 2020 simply as an aberration.
"I had a five to seven teams calling me," Johnson explained. "There was one that was very close to being a situation where it was going to work out. It was very close. But then it got to a certain point right after the trade deadline time it was like done. I didn't hear from anybody. It was like, 'Dang! Is that good? Is that normal?' My agent was like, 'Look, I think it's normal because it's 2020.' It's the trade deadline and they could have gotten the players they wanted. It's COVID and you have travel to an airport to go there or you have to drive there. There's just a lot of what-ifs. At that point and time after the trade deadline I was just going to relax and hang out and I'm going to start Oct.1 working out.
"At first I was nervous. Now I know I will have teams calling to sign me for next year. I feel more confident that that happens."