« One more shot for Junior | Main | Junior did it »

JJ could be here sooner than expected

Jj Those who think the Marlins are not going to last may want to pay attention to Ryan Tucker’s performance Sunday – five innings, two hits and one run.

Tucker, who was jolted out of Double A Carolina and into his first big league start, won’t save the season for the Fish, but his addition is going to help.

The man who might just save this season is Josh Johnson, because if JJ returns and resembles the guy who pitched in 2006 the Marlins will have in effect added a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Johnson’s return from Tommy John surgery was expected to be in early September or late August, but he is far ahead of that pace, and the Marlins believe he will be back around the All-Star break.

That idea received a huge boost Monday when Johnson pitched in his first game since leaving the mound July 4 with pain after throwing five scoreless innings against the Padres.

Johnson went five innings Monday and gave up five hits and one run in an extended spring training game against the Cardinals. He is set to start again in five days, and remain on a normal rotation until he is ready to join the Marlins.

“That’s good news,’’ said Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, who plans on putting Johnson in the rotation when Johnson rejoins the team.

“If he’s healthy he will be a starter,’’ Gonzalez said.

Johnson went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006, but he was one of the biggest reasons the Marlins came back from their 11-31 start and became a playoff contender. From May through August – when the Marlins made their biggest push – Johnson went 11-4 with a 2.77 ERA.

He can be a difference maker.

The biggest reason Florida fell into last place a year ago was the loss of Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco – 3/5 of the rotation.

Nolasco is back is 5-4 with a 5.05 ERA, and although he has had an uneven season, Nolasco has had his moments. He won four in a row last month with a 2.56 ERA in those games.

Sanchez is coming back from shoulder surgery and is behind Johnson in his rehab. But Gonzalez said Monday the “Sanchez is close to pitching in a game.’’

It might be a while for Sanchez to return, but Johnson could be on the mound in the middle of July. By then Andrew Miller will have another month under him, and Tucker may be a better pitcher than we saw on Sunday.