Brian Johnson puts his foot down

Slugger Brian Johnson was going through one of the toughest hitting slumps of his career. Hitting just .200 over a 13-game, month-long stretch, the junior had just five RBI and six hitless games.

That’s when assistant coach Brad Weitzel pulled him aside and pointed out a hitch in his hitting approach.

“Coach Weitzel worked with me a little bit about just getting my foot down, recognizing pitches earlier,” Johnson said. “I’m just getting my foot down a lot earlier, getting my load down earlier, on time quicker. It’s just seeing the ball earlier. The earlier you see the ball, the better chance you have to hit it.”

In the bottom of the first inning in an 8-2 win over Georgia Southern, Johnson picked up his right foot and slammed it down hard.

His bat swung around and connected with an inside fastball, and fans jumped to their feet as the crack rang through the still Gainesville night.

The ball carried over the right field fence for a two-out, three-run home run that gave Florida the lead for good and stamped an emphatic exclamation mark on a career night for Johnson.

“I looked at video from the past weekend and then earlier in the year, and my foot was still up in the air when the ball was on the way, so it was making everything look a lot faster,” Johnson said.

The junior’s resurgence since taking Weitzel’s advice has been remarkable. He was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday after guiding Florida to a series win over Tennessee.

In his last five games, Johnson is hitting .476 with 12 RBI, including the five he knocked in on Tuesday night.

Though he only made a minor mechanical change, it has made a big difference for Florida. After losing four of their first five games in April, the Gators have won four of their last five behind Johnson’s hot bat.

“Early in the season, I was probably fouling that ball off, just digging myself in a whole,” he said of his first-inning home run against Georgia Southern. “Now I’m making contact with that pitch.”

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan also thinks a minor lineup tweak over the weekend might have helped awaken the 6-foot-3, 245-pound power hitter.

O’Sullivan bumped him up to the cleanup spot in the lineup on Saturday against Tennessee, and Johnson responded with a three-hit performance.

“Had a great weekend at Tennessee, had another good night [Tuesday],” O’Sullivan said. “We moved him into the four spot at some point this weekend, wanted him to drive the ball a little bit. Moving him into the four and five spot may have changed his mentality a little bit.”

If Johnson can continue to hit down the stretch the way he did with two outs Tuesday night – picking up five RBI with a double and a home run – the Gators will be poised to make their charge up the SEC standings.

For the junior, it’s all about maintaining the focus that has turned his hitting around lately.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I’m just trying to have four good at-bats a game, or five if I get five at-bats. Just trying to stay focused for every pitch.”