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Red Sox notebook: Brian Johnson to take Eduardo Rodriguez’ turn in rotation tonight in Toronto

April 18, 2017

He’s been hit in the head with a line drive twice in five years, held up at gunpoint in his home state and endured time away from baseball to deal with overwhelming anxiety.

Today, Brian Johnson is coming back to the Red Sox.

“He’s been through quite a bit and we’re looking forward to the opportunity for him tomorrow,” manager John Farrell said.

The wild ride continues for the University of Florida alum, as he’s due to start the opener of a three-game series with the Blue Jays tonight in Toronto. Eduardo Rodriguez, who was originally scheduled to start, is away from the team on paternity leave after he welcomed a baby boy Sunday, according to Farrell.

Reliever Ben Taylor was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Rodriguez’ roster spot and add depth to the bullpen for yesterday’s 4-3 win at Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays. Johnson will be recalled from the PawSox and take Taylor’s roster spot today.

It will be the second career major league start for Johnson, who made his debut in 2015 against the Astros in Houston, where he took the loss after allowing three runs on three hits and four walks while striking out three in 41/3 innings.

In 102/3 innings over two Triple-A starts this year, the left-hander allowed two runs and posted a 15-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“Strike-throwing has been good,” Farrell said. “Percentage of strikes has been much improved. Sharpness to the secondary stuff is there. The velocity is probably not where it was two springs ago, but improved over a year ago.”

Johnson is more of the soft-tossing variety who can spin a breaking ball better than most in the minors has occasionally struggled with command. But to even have him available after he was hit in the head with a line drive two Saturdays ago is remarkable.

“Honestly, I think the only way I think you can shake it off is to take one in the face before that,” Johnson said. “You take one in the face, one in the head is not too bad. Honestly, I’d take that one any day of the week before I take that first one, so it wasn’t bad.”

A first-round pick in 2012, Johnson nearly lost his eyesight after he was hit in the face with a liner while pitching for Single-A Lowell during the Futures at Fenway game just two months into his pro career. Doctors later told him he narrowly avoided losing his eyesight.

Johnson has a career 3.14 ERA in Triple A.

“You definitely appreciate the call up more when you don’t know what lies next,” he said. “It took two years and it was a long path in between that, but I’m excited to be here.”

Sandoval sits

The Red Sox benched Pablo Sandoval, their home run leader (three) and RBI leader (nine), to get him a break against a left-handed starter in the Rays’ Blake Snell. The left-handed hitting Marco Hernandez got the nod at third base over the switch-hitting Sandoval.

Hernandez went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and error.

Sandoval is 0-for-10 as a right-handed hitter to start the season and 6-for-42 (.143) overall.

“There’s contact there,” Farrell said of Sandoval. “There’s not the overall swing-and-miss. . . . We know that he is stronger from the left side. That’s readily apparent to all of us. I think from where it was a couple of years ago when he abandoned right-handed hitting, to a year absent and a lot of work done in the offseason, there is improvement there.

“But Marco is there today to keep him involved, keep him sharp.” . . .

Finally, some success against lefties for Andrew Benintendi.

The lefty-hitting outfielder was 6-for-36 with 13 strikeouts and a paultry .411 OPS against lefties during his brief major league career, then ripped off three straight singles against Snell in a 3-for-4 performance. Two of the singles went against the shift and he is hitting .314 for the season.

“They were playing a big shift on me, and sometimes on a pitch away I would just try to poke it that way,” Benintendi said. “There were some fortunate hits in there, but I’ll take it. . . . The shift is kind of like The Wall. It will give a few hits and it will take away some hits. So you just have to take it as it is.”

Inspirational time

The 11:05 a.m. Patriots’ Day start can leave players feeling tired, but the atmosphere at Fenway makes up for being out of their normal routines.

“It was awesome,” Benintendi said. “I felt like the energy in the stadium was really high. It was an early game, but it was awesome to come out there and everybody kind of just united around one another.” . . .

Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (knee) and utility man Josh Rutledge (hamstring) will begin rehab assignments with Pawtucket today.