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Sluggish Opening Act for Josh Johnson

    HOUSTON -- Should the Marlins be concerned with Josh Johnson, who hasn't given them the kind of dominating, ace-quality starts projected of him when he signed his multi-year contract in January? Johnson is a rather pedestrian 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA after four outings, hardly eye-popping figures.

   But perhaps the most troubling trend has been his repeated failures to pitch deep into games. Johnson has not made it past the sixth inning in any of his four starts so far this season and, counting last season, has taken the ball into the seventh inning just once over his past 13 starts. During that stretch, he is 4-4 with a 4.39 ERA. Compare that to his first 24 starts last season when he went 12-2 with a 2.85 ERA and made it into the seventh 17 times.

Johnson   After Wednesday's no-decision against the Astros, manager Fredi Gonzalez conceded that Johnson hasn't pitched to his full potential.

   "It's not the J.J. that we've seen, that we had last year," Gonzalez said. "He wasn't as sharp as we've seen him before, or want him to be."

   Gonzalez, in fact, said he spoke with Johnson and pitching coach Randy St. Claire following Wednesday's game and instructed the pitcher to "just attack, attack, attack and stay on the attack."

  Gonzalez said Johnson's fastball velocity has been strong. But high pitch counts have harmed Johnson, or at least prevented him from pitching deep into games. Gonzalez and Johnson each felt there were a number of borderline pitches that were called for strikes on Wednesday. But, as Johnson said afterward, "it's not a strike unless it's called a strike."

   Catcher John Baker said that he sees nothing to be concerned about with Johnson and, specifically, his recent inability to deliver innings.

"I think there are two factors you find in the end and the beginning of a season," Baker said. "At the end of the season he was up to a number of innings he had never reached before until last year, and so I think the trigger was a little bit quicker in taking him out. And then, at the beginning of a season, guys have to build themselves up to get later into the game. I think the one thing about J.J. is no matter what game he pitches in, we always have a chance to win."

Baker said the one area where he thinks Johnson could improve is by decreasing the velocity of his slider and change-up.

"I think if you start to see more of a disparity in velocity between his fastball and offspeed pitches, you'll start to see more balls put into play instead of being fouled off," Baker said. "Right now his slider is 90. When his slider is 86, you'll start seeing more swings and misses, more ground balls. Sometimes, when you're all one speed, guys can put the ball in play, or foul balls off a little easier than if you have a greater difference, 10 or 15 mph difference between two pitches.

Sunday Start Time Pushed Back

  The start time for Sunday's game in Denver against Colorado has been pushed back to 3:05 p.m. due to a memorial service earlier in the day for the Rockies' late president, Keli McGregor. McGregor died of natural causes on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.


  Marlins: 1. Cameron Maybin, cf; 2. Chris Coghlan, lf; 3. Hanley Ramirez, ss; 4. Jorge Cantu, 3b; 5. Dan Uggla, 2b; 6. John Baker, c; 7. Cody Ross, rf; 8. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 9. Anibal Sanchez, p.

  Astros: 1. Michael Bourn, cf; 2. Kaz Matsui, 2b; 3. Lance Berkman, 1b; 4. Carlos Lee, lf; 5. Hunter Pence, rf; 6. Geoff Blum, 3b; 7. Humberto Quintero, c; 8. Tommy Manzella, ss; 9. Felipe Paulino, p.