Johnson's longball backs Banuelos and the Thunder
TRENTON — Before the Thunder’s 10:35 a.m. game against Altoona yesterday, Cody Johnson stood in front of his locker at Waterfront Park, trying to break down his own swing.
“I’ve always had a huge hitch,” Johnson explained.
Johnson has tried different hand positions, grips, and stances to no avail. But, about a week ago, Thunder hitting coach Julius Matos suggested that the 6-foot-4, 240-pound power-hitting lefty lower his hands.
Since then, Johnson, 22, has ripped four home runs in five days, including a three-run shot to right-center field that was the catalyst of the Thunder’s 7-3 win over the Curve.
“Lowering my hands has just helped me get rid of a lot of the movement in my swing,” Johnson said. “And that’s given me a lot more time at the plate and allowed me to get to a lot more pitches and hit the fastball a lot better.”
Johnson’s homer was off a fastball that Altoona reliever Matt McSwain left up and over the middle of the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
The blast broke open a close game and put the Thunder ahead 6-2.
The former first-round pick now has 104 home runs in six minor league seasons. But he has a lifetime .239 average. Strikeouts have also plagued Johnson. He’s been fanned 74 times in 178 at-bats this season, including twice yesterday. But both Franklin and Johnson agree: He feels and looks as comfortable at the plate now as he has since being acquired by the Yankees from the Braves in the offseason.
“I think the majority of us do get angry at ourselves when we’re not doing the things that we should,” Franklin said. “But Cody has handled that the way he should. And the next at-bat, he’s always up there trying to play in the moment and hit in the moment.
“And that’s not always easy to do for a guy who has as many strikeouts as he does.
“The biggest battle of any player who has a lot of strikeouts is: can you put the ball in play? And he’s starting to do that.”
Johnson was aided offensively by the top of the Thunder order. Leadoff hitter Ray Kruml (2-for-4), No. 2 hitter Jose Pirela (3-for-4), and No. 3 hitter Austin Romine (2-for-4), combined for seven of the Thunder’s 12 hits.
Manny Banuelos also continued to progress yesterday, pitching five innings, allowing one earned run on five hits, three walks and four strikeouts.
The lefty’s stuff, particularly his change-up, was just as electric as advertised. But, as he has for much of the season, Banuelos struggled with command at times and ran a high pitch count, throwing 83 pitches, 50 for strikes, in his five innings of work.
“He was better (today) because he was a little more instinctive on the mound,” Franklin said. “He didn’t worry too about mechanics. He didn’t worry about mechanics … He was out there throwing the baseball. And that’s what pitchers are supposed to do: Go out there and throw the baseball and let your best stuff hang out. And I think he did that.”