Updated April 24, 2012
Patriot's pitcher A. J. Johnson improved to 6-4 as Mason beat ODU, 16-6, in Fairfax on Sunday. He went six innings and allowed five earned runs.
“A.J. has been fabulous for us,” Mason coach Bill Brown said. “He makes quality pitches. He works fast and throws a ton of strikes.”
Brown also commented on fellow pitcher, junior right-hander Brandon Kuter. “We were looking to find a role for him,” Brown said of Kuter. “He is a guy who will be critical for us if we want to play in June,” he said, speaking of the possibility of winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title.
Mason is 13-8 and second in the CAA.
A.J. Johnson began his college career in the nation’s capital at George Washington University (GW), then spent a year with college baseball power Southern California. Now he's back in Northern Virginia with George Mason University.
That is the short version on what has been a long journey for 6-foot-4 Johnson, a former standout at Robinson High (class of 2007) and now one of the top starting pitchers for the Division I Patriots under head coach Bill Brown.
Johnson was recruited by GW and spent the fall semester of 2007 there before he transferred to Southern Cal for a chance to work with then pitching coach Tom House, a former Major Leaguer from 1971-78 with Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. House has been a pitching instructor for years and Johnson got to work with him on the East Coast when he was 11 or 12.
But Johnson was a redshirt during the 2008 season at Southern Cal and did not pitch. He transferred to Mason in time for the 2009 season, in part because of finances. “The economy was going south. Financially it made more sense to be here,” said Johnson, who has two sisters at Virginia Tech.
A redshirt senior, Johnson was 5-4 with an ERA of 3.59 in his first nine starts with one complete game this year for Mason. “I feel like I am throwing well every start. I have not had too many bad starts,” Johnson told Burke Patch on Wednesday.
Johnson throws a fastball in the low 90s and relies on a slurve (a combination slider-curve) and a split-finger fastball. In 52.2 innings he has struck out 32 batters and allowed 13 walks and 55 hits. He is slated to start at home April 22 (1 p.m.) against ODU in a Colonial Athletic Association game. Johnson threw the first complete game in nearly three years for Mason when he won at Northeastern, 7-1, on April 15.
While not considered a big-time prospect, Johnson said he has filled out forms and talked to scouts from Major League teams about the annual draft that will be held in early June. “It could happen. We shall see,” Johnson said about being chosen.
Either way Johnson certainly has a backup plan. He graduated in December from Mason with a degree in exercise science and has been taking undergraduate courses this semester to pad his credits. If pro baseball does not work out, he plans to enter graduate school and get a master’s in education with plans to be a teacher and coach.
Another Robinson High graduate who is a pitcher for Mason is 6-7 junior right-hander Brandon Kuter, who started for the Patriots in an 8-6 loss to Longwood in a non-conference game on a rainy day April 18 in Fairfax. A former baseball and basketball player at Robinson, Kuter was teammates with Johnson for one full year on the baseball team in high school.
Kuter has been used as a starter during the week and then sees action out of the bullpen on weekends during CAA games for Mason, which is tied for third at 11-7 in CAA play going into the series with ODU that begins April 20. The top six teams make the CAA tourney that will be held at JMU in late May.
“I think we feel good about it. Our pitching is coming along really well. Our weekend starters (such as Johnson) have been doing really well,” said Kuter, who was 3-0 with an ERA of 8.35 in nine games, with six starts, through April 18. “Our defense has finally come along. We struggled some last year with errors. Our offense is there every day, pretty much. We score runs every day.”
Kuter throws a fastball in the low 90s and was a closer for his summer league team on Long Island in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL) in 2011. He attracted interest out of high school from Virginia, Richmond and other schools but picked Mason, where he majors in global affairs. He is also eligible for the June draft, but has another year of eligibility with the Patriots.
Mason will try to solidify its post-season chances in a series in Fairfax April 20-22 against ODU.