The desire and discipline that is part of Reed Johnson's heart and soul was never better demonstrated than on Friday against the Giants.
If Cubs manager Mike Quade was not convinced outfielder Johnson was the proverbial gamer every team needs in there at least part-time by watching him as a coach in 2008-09, he never will be. And Quade's rating of the hustling Johnson had to shoot up after his drifting, drifting, drifting and then leaping catch in the right-field well, followed by a bases-clearing triple down the right-field line.
Johnson was effective as a platoon outfielder against left-handed pitching in 2008, driving in 50 runs on just 6 homers in 333 at-bats. His flying-through-the-air catch off Felipe Lopez in DC is one of the greatest in modern Cubs annals. But this season, Johnson -- yet another aspect of positive clubhouse chemistry from '08 allowed to leave, but fortunately corralled back in like Kerry Wood -- has shown he possesses all his old stuff.
As much as Tyler Colvin deserved a shot at at least semi-regular status, he simply never got anything going this year. Reading between the lines Saturday, Quade seems to be drifting toward a demotion of Colvin to Triple-A to give him needed playing time. That would assure Johnson more of a regular role in the outfield.
The Cubs need all the acumen possible in clutch situations, given their .238 average (going into Saturday's game) with runners in scoring position, better than last week, but still a huge laggard when compared to overall team average. Johnson's own mark was .500 (3-for-6), but his mental nimbleness in adjusting his stance and approach from pitch to pitch can only help Quade's inconsistent lineup. Johnson is a student of the game.
"To me, you just can't get caught up in the situation," he said of clutch at-bats. "Most hitters key off something, like I'm trying to stay on my legs through the whole swing or I'm trying to keep my hands loose. If you go up there with runners in scoring position (tensely thinking) ‘Man I've got to drive this run in,' you've already lost.
"You've got to go up there repetitively talking to yourself, I've got to keep my hands loose. That's what's brought you success in the past with runners on. The way I do it is just force myself to think that same approach that helps me hit a ball hard every time, whether there are runners on or not."
It's at the point where Johnson bats almost doesn't matter. They have plenty of table-setters. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney have excelled batting No. 1 and 2. That puts Kosuke Fukudome in an odd spot. He had a .467 on-base percentage and 18 walks going into Saturday, but just 3 RBIs. Fukudome is best suited as a leadoff man, drawing walks and slapping singles to left, but Castro is probably better off right now at No. 1 even if the third slot is his future. Given this jam-up at the top, Johnson's savvy is good at No. 6 or 7.
The Cubs can't get enough who play the game the right way, no matter how high or low they bat. Given questions already posed about some players' hustle quotient, there are nothing but positive answers about Reed Johnson. Let him pick up where he left off three years ago.