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Bishop Verot grad Johnson finally feels like he has a spot in first-place Atlanta lineup

Chris Johnson finally feels like he has a spot in first-place Atlanta lineup.

Jul. 11, 2013   |  
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Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Bishop Verot grad Chris Johnson is congratulated by teammates after scoring during a game against the Marlins on Wednesday. Miami won, 6-2, to snap a five-game skid. / Getty Images

The Johnson file

Height/weight: 6-foot-3/220 pounds
Age: 28
College: Stetson
High school: Bishop Verot
» Recent moves: On July 29, 2012, Houston traded Chris Johnson to Arizona for fellow Bishop Verot grad Bobby Borchering as well as Marc Kraus. On Jan. 18, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks for a reported $2.287 million. On Jan. 24, Arizona traded him to Atlanta with Justin Upton for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill and Brandon Drury.

YearTeamHRRBIAVG
2013Atlanta631.335
2012Houston, Arizona1576.281
2011Houston742.251
2010Houston1152.308
2009Houston01.091

Atlanta Braves' Chris Johnson, left, is out at home after he was tagged out by Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly, right, in the fourth inning during a game Tuesday in Miami. / Associated Press

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MIAMI - Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta.

In the last year, that’s been home for Chris Johnson.

He’s not quite a nomad but not ready to take a hard look at real estate, either.

The good news is that Johnson’s new locales have been an upgrade. He’s gone from Houston, which is one of the worst teams in major league baseball, to Arizona, which was in a pennant race last season, to Atlanta (52-39), which leads the National League East. While he could see the Astros’ deal coming, the trade from Arizona surprised him.

“I was doing my thing when I got a phone call,” he said. “But it’s for the best. It’s good. I got traded to a pretty good ball club.”

A Bishop Verot High grad, Johnson has played a key role in the Braves move to the top. He’s hitting .335 with six homers and 31 RBI and is on an 11-game hit streak after going 2-for-4 with an RBI on Wednesday against the Miami Marlins.

“Yeah, I feel have,” said Johnson if he’s found a home. “But it’s not up to me. Hopefully they feel the same. I just have to keep working hard and do what I can to help the team win. Hopefully, I can hang around for a little while.”

With a one-year deal, Johnson knows he has to keep producing, keep grinding, keep improving his defense. The Braves did show trust in him as an everyday player after they traded Juan Franciso to the Milwaukee Brewers a month ago.

“You stop working, that’s when you get in trouble,” Johnson said. “My whole career, I’ve had to work and try to get better every single day. It’s one of those things where hopefully I’m getting better, a little wiser and learning the game more.”

The Braves are a fascinating team.

They have spent a major-league high 100 days in first place this season but have just one All-Star, pitcher Craig Kimbrel.

Atlanta has a 24-inning scoreless stretch —18 against Milwaukee of all teams — but also has 27 comeback wins, which ranks in the top three in the majors.

“It’s a fun group of guys, we have the right mentality on this team,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of fight on this team. Sometimes, we come into a game after a loss and you wouldn’t know we lost. We know it’s a long season and we’re gonna lose some games. We just come out grinding ever single game. If we lose, we come out to get the next one.”

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Monday night, the Braves saw 24 straight batters retired before they exploded for six runs in the 14th inning in a 7-1 win over the Marlins.

So it shouldn’t be that surprising that their normal Nos. 1, 2 and 3 hitters in the lineup are batting .245, .225 and .252 and their normal No. 8 hitter, Johnson, is leading the team in batting average. He batted No. 6 on Wednesday.

But you won’t hear him complaining where he’s at.

“I’d never say I’m better than my teammates and a lot more deserving,” Johnson said. “I’m comfortable where I’m at. We’re all comfortable where we’re hitting.

“The lineups are working out pretty well, I’m getting plenty of opportunities with guys on base and I’ve been getting good pitches. I’m not worried about that.”

Johnson’s teammates — who describe him as a funny guy and cool dude – say batting No. 8 is tricky because you don’t know if you’ll get pitched to or not.

“They don’t always want to walk you,” Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla said. “You have certain at-bats where you don’t think they’ll throw you a fastball over the plate and the next thing you know, they’re throwing three fastballs down the middle of the plate. You can’t assume anything, you have to be ready for anything. You have to treat it like you’re hitting seventh, sixth or fifth.

Braves catcher Brian McCann simply said, “He’s not an 8-hole hitter.

“Right now, he’s in there because that’s the lineup we have. On any other team, he’s not hitting in the 8 hole. It’s hard to talk in that breath that he’s hitting eighth but we don’t have the typical lineup with our leadoff guy or No. 2.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Nos. 7 and 8 hitters often are under appreciated. He noted a good No. 8 hitter gives the other team something to think about.

“A lot of times with the eighth hole, you’re throwing guys down there,” he said. “I haven’t quantified it but he’s come up with runners on base or he’s turned our lineup over faster. Whether people are on base or not, he makes the manager think, ‘Should I walk this guy to get to the pitcher? Chris Johnson makes the situation more difficult.”

Gonzalez added, “Maybe he’s having that success because he’s in that spot.” Having a father – Ron – in pro baseball, also has made him aware of the importance of adapting to a role.

“We’ve taken him out for defense a couple of times, like when we have a two-run lead in the ninth,” Gonzalez said. “And he’s even come up to me and said, ‘Maybe you need to get me out of there.’ He’s a team player.”

After four home games against Cincinnati, it’s the all-star break. Another strong second half and Atlanta will return to the playoffs. Last season it lost to St. Louis in the first season of that one-game, single-elimination contest.

“These guys haven’t won in the playoffs and they’re hungry for that,” Johnson said. “Guys always talk about that, how they want to get back and win more than one game.”

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