Johnson follows demotion with dazzler

Arrieta's protege calls 4 frames vs. Tribe 'huge success'

Johnson follows demotion with dazzler

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One day after being sent to the Minor League camp, Pierce Johnson had his best outing this spring. Jake Arrieta would be proud.

Johnson gave up three hits over four scoreless innings and also got a single off the Indians' Corey Kluber on Saturday night in the Cubs' 10-5 loss. In his three previous outings, Johnson had served up six runs on nine hits over four innings.

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"I'm just trying to impress my teammates, show them that I'm ready to be there, and trying to keep us in the game, and I think today things finally clicked," Johnson said, calling the outing a "huge success."

Johnson and Arrieta got to know each other in Spring Training 2014. Arrieta was slowed because of a tender right shoulder that spring, and found a good training partner in the long-haired Johnson. This year, they were throwing partners.

"I told him he's right where he needs to be," Arrieta said Saturday prior to Johnson's start.

Arrieta said he can see a difference from last year. The rotation on Johnson's pitches is better, his timing is good.

"I told him, it's going to translate," Arrieta said. "You just need to block out all the other [nonsense] in between the lines rather than focusing on where my delivery is at this point or that point. When you're in between the lines, you have to just execute.

"I told him to stay on track," Arrieta said. "He's right there. It's in between the lines for him that's the adjustment. It's how to stay locked in when he's on the mound facing live hitters. He's close, he knows it."

It certainly helps to have a Cy Young winner on your side.

"What a good guy, on and off the field," Johnson, who turns 25 on May 10, said of Arrieta. "I'm just trying to learn from him as much as I can. Every day he came up and talked to me, and after outings, we'd diagnose what went wrong, what went right, how to make adjustments, what to do. ... For me, the way he goes about his business, it's phenomenal. If I can translate that to my game, hopefully, it'll take off like his."

Other notes from Saturday:

Tommy La Stella and Matt Szczur took at-bats in five straight innings during a Minor League game Saturday in which Arrieta was pitching. La Stella has been sidelined with a sore left calf, while Szczur has been slowed with an oblique strain. La Stella did hit, but the Cubs did not allow him to run the bases yet and used a pinch-runner.

Szczur was able to hit, run and play defense.

"You can tell by the little smirk that he's feeling better," manager Joe Maddon said of the outfielder.

Even though La Stella has played in four games, and not seen any action since March 7, he's in the mix for a spot on the Cubs' Opening Day roster.

"The guy's been sitting around for a week and goes out there and he's hitting line drives all over the place," Maddon said of the left-handed-hitting infielder. "He's a very valuable player."

Shane Victorino, out with a right calf injury, is doing his work, but not ready for game action yet.

• The Cubs players were treated to a motivational speaker prior to Saturday's stretch, and his message was punctuated by him breaking a concrete block that was positioned on Maddon's chest.

"It fits into our daily routine quite well," Maddon said of the message. "It's a great way to start the day.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.