SCOTTSDALE — When Tim Hudson met with reporters the day after a rehab start last August, he was more interested in talking about the second starting pitcher who had taken the mound for the San Jose Giants.
“Give that kid a uniform,” Hudson said, his eyes lighting up.
Retirement has Hudson out of spring training for the first time in nearly two decades, but that “kid” he was raving about is in big league camp with the Giants. Chase Johnson, third-round pick out of Cal Poly in 2013, is one of seven pitchers who came to Arizona early as a non-roster invitee.
Johnson has quietly been mentioned by executives and scouts for the last couple of years, but he wasn’t that well known to even close followers of the minors until his dominating performance in relief of Hudson, who threw 2 2/3 innings to Andrew Susac (also rehabbing) before reliever Jeff Soptic provided a bridge to Johnson. The 24-year-old proceeded to strike out 14 over six innings, and he remembers the stunning night as much for Hudson as for the strikeouts.
“It was kind of intimidating,” he said. “He’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen. I remember watching him when I was younger.”
Johnson smiled when recounting how he had seen Hudson’s quotes to reporters in San Francisco. Both Hudson and Susac raved about Johnson’s pure stuff and performance, and the veteran tried to take some credit for the 14 strikeouts.
"I was setting them up for him," Hudson joked.
Johnson watched Hudson pitch the first inning and then started his preparation once the second inning rolled around, treating his second relief appearance of the season as a start. San Jose’s bullpen had been taxed in recent games and Johnson hoped to come in for the third inning and finish the game off, saving an arm or two. He soon realized he could accomplish much more than just simply close out a win.
“You usually don’t have all your pitches working on the same night,” he said. “But I had my fastball, curve and slider all going for strikes.”
Throw in the fact that he had excellent fastball command that night and you end up with this line: Six innings, three hits, no runs, one walk, 14 strikeouts. Johnson threw 63 of 90 pitches for strikes and hit 98 mph in his first inning as the night’s “long reliever.” The game was Johnson’s first double-digit strikeout performance of his career.
“It’s the most I’ve ever had in my life,” he said on Saturday.
The impressive outing ended up being Johnson’s last one in Single-A. He immediately got a promotion to Double-A Richmond -- and a rude awakening. After posting a 2.43 ERA prior to the move, Johnson had a 5.93 ERA in three starts for Richmond.
“I feel like I tried to pitch better (in Richmond) than I should have,” he said. “It was definitely a little bit of an adjustment. I tried to throw too hard and I was overthrowing. I tried to make my pitches too good.”
Johnson viewed the brief Double-A run as a good learning experience, and he’ll try to expand on that this spring. He does drills in the same group as Madison Bumgarner, Javier Lopez and George Kontos and he’s soaking up every bit of knowledge he can, just as he did the night he stole the show from Hudson.
“I got to talk to him before,” that game, Johnson said. “It was really cool to pick his brain.”
STOCK RISING: The beat writers were standing around the other day taking stabs at the player who is going to make the opening day roster when nobody saw it coming. (My guess, and it’s just a ridiculous February guess, was Conor Gillaspie.) Someone mentioned Cory Gearrin, and it was a pretty good pick. Gearrin absolutely dominated righties in the minors last year and he could find a fit in this ‘pen as a funky specialist.
“He’s got experience,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got a tough angle, particularly on righties. We got him healthy at the end of last year and he threw the ball well.”
STOCK FALLING: Drama. There’s none of it at Scottsdale Stadium, where everyone is healthy and feeling good. The manager had a big smile on his face today as he offered little in the way of news during the daily session with reporters.
LIGHTER SIDE: The lunch menu on the schedule Ron Wotus posted for players: Iguana soup and stewed goat, with funchi on the side. Funchi is apparently the No.1 food in Dutch Antilles. Now you know.