E. Johnson a promising option if Shark dealt

Prospect has rebounded after difficult 2014 season

E. Johnson a promising option if Shark dealt

CLEVELAND -- As of Saturday, Jeff Samardzija remains on track to start for the White Sox on Tuesday night against Boston in Fenway Park.

That could change if the free-agent-to-be is traded, with rumors of interest from the Dodgers and Blue Jays emergin in the past week. But preparing for all possible situations at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is nothing new for the White Sox and pitching coach Don Cooper.

"We've been through this many, many times," Cooper said. "Nothing has changed. We are going out to do our sidelines. We talk about what we need to talk about, we prepare for everybody's next start and/or outing in the bullpen.

"If something changes, the names might change, but the job never does. Right now, Shark is pitching against Boston, and that's where our focus is."

Something already has changed in regard to Erik Johnson, who has produced a 2.59 ERA over 17 games and 16 starts for Triple-A Charlotte this season. The Knights moved Johnson's next start back to Tuesday, lining him up with Samardzija's spot in the big league rotation.

White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell explained that a similar change was done with Frankie Montas, as the organization works backward with prospects who have a chance to reach the Majors in '15 and figure out where the innings stand. Johnson, 25, was counted on as part of the White Sox rotation at the outset of 2014, only to struggle with a 6.46 ERA over five starts in the Majors and a 6.73 ERA over 20 starts with the Knights.

Johnson's velocity is back up toward 95 mph this season, and Bell had nothing but positives to share Saturday concerning the right-hander.

"He's actually better than when we called him up the first time. He's that much better," said Bell of Johnson, who has fanned 105 in 94 innings with 30 walks. "He knows where he's throwing the ball.

"You get in a situation where you are not really sure where your fastball is going, you start to guide it a little bit. His has been there all year. Fastball, changeup, breaking ball. I mean, we all know the kind of competitor he is. I have no idea what he went through last year or what he did over the winter. But he's been as good as anybody."

Bell also had praise for Micah Johnson's defense at second base with the Knights, adding that at some point he's going to have to come up and figure out the speed of the game at the Major League level. For now, though, second base belongs to Carlos Sanchez and Alexei Ramirez has a firm grasp on shortstop.

"I'm sure, at times, Micah feels like what does he have to do to get back up here?" said Bell of Johnson, who is hitting .331 for Charlotte with 24 stolen bases. "Based on what Carlos has done defensively and starting to come around offensively, it's kind of a good problem to have."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.