WASHINGTON -- Rob Johnson may currently be out of sight, but the Triple-A catcher is hardly out of mind. In fact, as Adam Wainwright analyzed his dominant start on Tuesday, he credited Johnson for helping position him for such early-season success.
Signed as a Minor League free agent over the winter, Johnson was a participant in big league Spring Training until the final week of camp. It was at that point that he was sent out to Memphis, where the Cardinals looked forward to having the veteran backstop available to mentor several young pitching prospects.
But Johnson's influence is still being felt at the Major League level, too. Wainwright noted that Johnson was one of the first people this spring to recommend he try throwing more elevated four-seam fastballs. The 30-year-old Johnson, who played six seasons in the Mariners' system, relayed how much more effective Felix Hernandez's curveball became once he started complementing it with the high fastball. That's because both pitches are released from the same spot, making it tougher for a hitter to read which pitch is coming.
Johnson believed Wainwright's already-nasty curve would benefit in a similar way.
Wainwright estimated that he threw three or four four-seam fastballs in his career before this season. Now, he's incorporating the pitch with regularity. He used it on Tuesday to notch an inning-ending strikeout of Adam LaRoche with the bases loaded.
"That's something you could see early in spring -- that he was so intentional about building relationships with the pitchers," manager Mike Matheny said of Johnson. "The guys who are wired like that just can't help it; they congregate toward the pitchers and spend time with pitchers. They're talking pitching. They're talking philosophy. When you have a guy like that, he's an asset no matter where you put him."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.