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Buck: JJ's slider lacks consistent sharpness

HOUSTON -- With a pitching staff that's posted the sixth lowest ERA in baseball, Marlins catcher John Buck has been having a pretty good time behind the plate this season.

Guillen, Buck, JJBuck, though, would like for his buddy Josh Johnson to join in the fun, too.

After missing the final four months of the 2011 season with shoulder issues, the two-time All-Star and opening day starter hasn't had much of it. He's gone 0-3 with a horrific 6.61 ERA (which going into Tuesday's game in Houston ranked 109th out of 113 major leaguers with at least five starts).

Wednesday night, Johnson will head back to the mound against the Astros at Minute Paid Park hoping to pick up his first win since he beat the Pirates at Sun Life Stadium on April 19, 2011.

Johnson reiterated Tuesday health isn't an issue. His catcher backs him up on that.

"He's not the type of guy to sugar coat it. If he felt off, he'd say he feels off," Buck said.

Where Johnson is having issues, Buck said, is in "the sharpness of his pitches." Buck said the lack of success Johnson has had with his go-to pitch -- his slider -- has affected him the most.

"That sharpness that makes people swing and miss, or they know it's coming and look for it and they still can't hit it -- it just hasn't had that," Buck said. "If they see it they can put it in play, they're able to battle it off and stay alive and wait for him to make a mistake later in the sequence. That's the difference."

Buck said while Johnson has shown effectiveness with his pitches at times, he's had trouble "repeating his delivery... so he gets the same production out of that pitch."

Buck maintains Johnson's velocity "is pretty much there," but the consistency just isn't.

According to FanGraphs.com, which charts pitches and speed, Johnson has used his fastball just 56.4 percent of the time this season -- 8.5 percent less than his career average. The velocity according to Fangraphs is 92.7 miles per hour -- 1.2 miles per hour than his career average.

Johnson said that what he learned from his last start Friday in San Diego -- which lasted just 2 2/3 innings because gave up a season-high six earned runs -- is that he's "got to keep the ball down."

"Every hit was up," Johnson said. "Just get the ball down... That's a better recipe for success than keeping the ball over the plate."

While the rest of the Marlins starting rotation has shined by going at least six innings in 23 of the team's first 29 games (fourth most in the majors) with a combined ERA of 2.50, Johnson has only made it through six innings in half of his starts.

The fact he's not carrying his own weight frustrates him the most. "Everybody's throwing well and I want to throw well too," Johnson said. "I'm a competitor... it's frustrating."

If there is an encouraging sign for Johnson is that he isn't getting killed. Of the 47 hits he's given up in 31 1/3 innings, only eight have gone for extra bases and none of those hits are home runs.

"It's a game of inches," Johnson said. "If half of those pitches are an inch down or a little more off the corner they're not hits. They're outs. But it's how the game goes."