NORMAN — Casey Johnson played baseball for nearly two seasons in the most counter-productive way possible. He was a hitter, but just putting the bat on the ball caused awful pain to shoot through the left-handed slugger’s right hand.
“Every time I would swing, I had to move my bottom hand off the bat,” Johnson said. “We tried taping the bat up on the end to help with the vibration so it wouldn’t hurt as much. It didn’t work.”
It put the Oklahoma outfielder’s career in serious jeopardy at the absolute worst time. In his first two seasons, Johnson was one of the Sooners’ best players. In 2009, Johnson’s sophomore season, he belted seven homers and drove in 44 runs.
He did that while fighting the pain in his right hand. All he needed to do was have a solid summer in the Cape Cod League to ensure his draft status.
Things, though, didn’t work out. The pain was bad enough hitting with metal bats. Wood only made it worse. The pain continued into last season as Johnson saw his batting and power numbers sink along with his starting spot.
“I didn’t have surgery because I wanted to go play in the Cape Cod League. I should have gotten the surgery,” Johnson, now a senior, said. “If I would have done that, it would have solved the problem for last year.”
This season, however, that broken hamate bone is fully healed and a healthy Johnson has breathed some offensive life into the Sooner lineup. He’s driven in seven runs in the last three games and in 45 at-bats, he’s hitting .400. Also, with three home runs, his power has returned.
“Getting Casey back was like bringing in another great recruit,” Sooner third baseman Garrett Buechele said. “What has been really special about it has been that it has given us another quality bat we can stick in our lineup every day.”
The next day arrives at 7:30 tonight when OU (25-8, 6-5 Big 12) opens the Bedlam series against Oklahoma State (25-8, 8-4) at ONEOK Field in Tulsa before moving to Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City for Game 2 and Game 3.
For both teams, the three-game series represents the most important weekend of the regular season. Crowds of more than 10,000 typically cram into the ballparks to see one of college baseball’s best rivalries.
Johnson’s re-emergence has been a blessing for the Sooners because it has come from a senior who has already experienced all the wide-eyed moments in college baseball.
“I think he brings an element of newness and energy. To me, he brings a calming effect because he’s still a veteran,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “He was in pressure situations in both his freshman and sophomore years. I like his experience right now, along with his energy from kind of being the new kid on the block, so to speak.”
Johnson’s happy to be looked at that way. Breaking back into OU’s lineup hasn’t been easy. The Sooners have a ton of outfield talent. Johnson has been mixing in with Cody Reine and Max White at either left or right field.
None of the three know they’ll be starting until they see the lineup card.
“We’ve got a lot of talent in the outfield. There’s seven guys that can go out there and play on any given day,” Johnson said. “I was fortunate enough to get the chance.”
Should he make the most of his chances against the Cowboys, it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“There always seems to be one guy that just comes through and comes through in the clutch,” shortstop Caleb Bushyhead said. “He’s that guy right now.”
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com