HOUSTON — Chris Johnson informed modenook.com that he’s focused and determined to bounce back in 2012 and reclaim his starting job at third base for the Astros after a rough 2011 season that included a one-month stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Johnson, 27, had an exceptional rookie campaign in 2010 by hitting .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBI over 94 games for the Astros.
Manager Brad Mills and former general manager Ed Wade thought he could potentially be one of the club’s long-term answers.
As a result, Johnson entered Spring Training last season with the starting job at third with virtually nobody else pushing up on him.
Over the course of the regular season, Johnson struggled to produce and make adjustments to stay ahead of advanced scouting reports.
Then, Johnson got his wake-up call.
Infielder Jimmy Paredes was recalled from Double-A on July 31 in a corresponding roster move that demoted Johnson to Oklahoma City.
The 23-year-old Paredes, who was acquired by the Astros as part of the trade that sent Lance Berkman to the Yankees on July 31, 2010, demonstrated his potential to be an everyday player.
Paredes hit .286 with two homers, 18 RBI, eight doubles, two triples and five stolen bases in 46 games for the Astros last season.
He joined Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez as the trio that made the jump to the major leagues straight from Double-A Corpus Christi.
It turned out to be the perfect wake-up call for Johnson, who returned to the Astros in September and hit .314 down the stretch.
Ultimately, he hit .251 with seven home runs, 42 RBI and 21 doubles over 378 at-bats in 107 games for the Astros last season.
Johnson knew it was time to change his approach.
“I learned that you really have to prepare for this game at this level,” he said. “You have to be ready to play this game. Last year, I came in with an attitude thinking I had a decent rookie year, and I will be able to go out there and play. You need to put in the preparation and keep working hard. That’s why I’m working hard.
“I’m excited about this year.”
He’s among the group of players working out in the mornings at Minute Maid Park with strength and conditioning coach Dr. Gene Coleman.
“I’m pumped up,” Johnson said. “Last year, I got kicked in the butt. I love the competitive atmosphere. This is what I want to do. So, I am going to bust it this year and give it everything I have.”
Johnson has talked with Mills and new general manager Jeff Luhnow regarding the competition between him and Paredes at third.
Both players will enter Spring Training on even ground with an equal opportunity to claim the starting job on the Opening Day roster.
According to Johnson, both players have a solid relationship and push each other on the field in the right way to become better.
“They [Mills and Luhnow] have talked to both of us,” Johnson said. “The job is open. Jimmy and I will have to go head-to-head in order to get it. We’re excited about that. Jimmy’s a great kid. We’re going to help each other. We want to make sure both of us are ready for Opening Day. We know we are both Astros.”
What would Johnson consider a successful 2012 season?
“To start the year, I want to win the job,” he said. “I want to be the long-term third baseman on this ballclub. Also, we want to get this organization moving in the right direction. They are bringing in a lot of new guys. I want to be a part of it over the long run.”
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