KANSAS CITY -- When Alex Gordon hit a broken-bat grounder toward shortstop Alexei Ramirez in the sixth inning of the White Sox 7-5 victory over the Royals on Sunday, Erik Johnson's first instinct on the mound was to turn around and follow the baseball.
Luckily for the young right-hander, he turned back around quickly enough to follow the throw to first. It was at that point that Johnson saw the barrel of the broken bat coming straight for his head. He was able to block the impact with his glove and escaped unscathed.
"I was lucky enough to get my glove over my face and then my other arm to protect me," Johnson said. "It just squared me up with the fat part of the bat. I didn't get a pointy end of it. I was very thankful for that. I usually pick up the ball first and I was scared to have the bat coming at me."
"Yeah, he's fine," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "It's scary when the bat, the barrel, was flying out there. He said it hit him in the arm. At first it looked like it might have gotten him a little higher, but scary when that bat is flying around."
Johnson's start at Kauffman Stadium was his first appearance on a big league mound since April 25, 2014. He allowed solo homers to Jarrod Dyson, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, all of them coming when he was ahead in the count, but gave up only two more hits over six innings.
The zero under the walk column stood out as the most important statistic for Johnson. He pitched with tempo, rhythm and confidence, following a path set by John Danks and Jose Quintana in attacking the aggressive Royals early by changing speeds on the first pitch.
His return after a strong season for Triple-A Charlotte became a triumphant one.
"Again, for me, it's just the body of work that I've been producing this year, and when you go out there and do exactly what I've been doing this year, it's a pretty proud moment," said Johnson, who threw 60 of his 86 pitches for strikes in helping the White Sox complete a three-game sweep. "It's what I've been doing this year, commanding the zone and throwing lots of strikes. I went out there and did it again."
"That was a big pickup for him. He has really good stuff," said White Sox closer David Robertson, whose 29th save finished off Johnson's first victory. "He was right on target and driving the ball in the zone. Kept everything down. He gave up [five] hits and three happened to be home runs. That's pretty good. I'd take that all day."
Fortunes smiled enough on Johnson that the broken-bat grounder involving Gordon, originally ruled a hit, was overturned by video review. He got out of the inning without throwing another pitch and got away from the flying bat without bumps or bruises.
"He said he had a nice little karate move to stop it," Ventura said. "He felt like he did something to block it."