March 08, 2012

Marlins in no rush to get Anibal Sanchez his first Grapefruit League start

PORT ST. LUCIE -- Carlos Zambrano will make his Marlins debut this afternoon at Digital Domain Park against the Mets.

That leaves the Marlins with one starting pitcher in their rotation who has yet to make a start this spring -- Anibal Sanchez -- and it's still unclear when the 28-year old right-hander will do that.

Manager Ozzie Guillen said before Thursday's game against the Mets that Sanchez still has a ways to go before he pitches in a spring game and the team is in no rush to get him on the mound.

Sanchez experienced tightness in his throwing shoulder last Friday during a bullpen session. Sanchez threw off flat ground on Tuesday and told reporters afterward he expects to progress normally over the course of Spring Training.

"We're not going to put a guy out there just because. When he's ready to pitch, he'll pitch," Guillen said. "I don't think it's a big deal, but it could be a big deal if we don't handle it the right way. Right now, he's kind of sore. No matter how much you workout in the winter -- you don't throw a baseball -- you have to go through conditioning."

Guillen said Sanchez was expected to throw again Friday in Jupiter.

Sanchez was awarded $8 million in arbitration shortly before the start of spring training.

If he's unable to go at the start of the season, the Marlins could consider going with right-hander Alex Sanabia, left-hander Sean West, right-hander Tom Koehler or left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who will start in Sanchez's place Friday against the Nationals. 

> The Marlins are expected to play their starting infield together for the first time this spring when they face Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg Friday night Roger Dean Stadium. They haven't been able to play together as of yet because of the number of split squad games the Marlins have played since Grapefruit League play began on Monday.

LINEUPS

> Marlins: 1. Scott Cousins LF, 2. Donnie Murphy SS, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Austin Kearns DH, 5. Aaron Rowand RF, 6. Terry Tiffee 1B, 7. Luke Montz C, 8. Donovan Solano 2B, 9. Kevin Mattison CF. P Carlos Zambrano
> Mets: 1. Kirk Nieuwenhuis CF, 2. Justin Turner 3B, 3. Jason Bay LF, 4. Ike Davis DH, 5. Lucas May C, 6. Mike Baxter RF, 7. Adam Loewen 1B, 8. Ronny Cedeno 2B, 9. Omar Quintanilla. P Mike Pelfrey

March 02, 2012

Anibal Sanchez feels tightness in his right shoulder; Marlins set spring rotation

JUPITER -- Anibal Sanchez felt a little tightness behind his right shoulder after throwing his bullpen session Friday and will take a few days off to rest it.

Anibal SanchezThe 28-year old right-hander said he isn’t too worried about it, but the team has scratched him from throwing in an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday on Field 2 at Roger Dean Stadium. His first Grapefruit League start is now tentatively set for March 9 against the Nationals.

"It's the first time I've felt anything in my shoulder in a long time," said Sanchez, who missed half of the 2007 season with a torn labrum.

Sanchez has made 32 starts each of the last two seasons, going a combined 21-21 with a 3.61 ERA. Last season, he was 6-2 with a 3.58 ERA before the All-Star break.

The Marlins have now set their early spring rotation according to pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

Carlos Zambrano will pitch in Sunday’s scrimmage, which may last about three innings and again on Thursday in Port St. Lucie against the Mets.

Josh Johnson will start in the Grapefruit League opener against the Cardinals Monday.

Tuesday, Mark Buehrle will throw against the University of Miami at Marlins Park. Alex Sanabia will start against the Tigers in the afternoon game in Jupiter.

Wednesday, Ricky Nolasco will face Florida International at Marlins Park. Sean West will take the mound against the Mets in the afternoon in Jupiter.

St. Claire said the Marlins will have plenty of off days at the start of the regular season in April to shuffle their rotation around.

WEST IMPRESSING

West, who went 5-8 with a 5.59 ERA last season in Triple A New Orleans, has looked impressive thus far according to St. Claire.

He's doing what he needs to do, executing his pitches command wise. When I took this job three years ago they said there were two openings. I watched all the video and I said there isn't two openings to me, there can only be one. I said there can't be guys better than [West].

"92, 93 miles per hour coming out of the hand with a change up and biting slider. He's back to looking like that guy. What he threw today, [catcher Brett] Hayes said it was the nastiest he's ever seen from him."

West, not expected to land a job with the team, said he's motivated despite the obvious reason not to be.

"Things are just starting to click for me. It's taken a couple years to get that way. I wish it hadn't. But this is the year things are starting to click and I'm just rolling with it," said West, who had a procedure done to clean out his throwing arm last September.

"I had that cleanout with Dr. Andrew's this past off-season. Ever since then it's been coming out like it used to when I was in high school. I'm just trying to stay motivated, very positive."

> Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is celebrating his 29th wedding anniversary with his wife Ibis Friday night. He joked that he's only forgotten two of them.

"People thought I'd never be married more than one year. People thought I'd never play in the big leagues longer than one month. People thought I wouldn't manage longer than 3 months. Keep it rolling baby," Guillen said.

> Guillen said he didn't know until two days ago that Emilio Bonifacio was a switch hitter. His son Oney pointed it out to him. "I didn't know," Guillen said. "Why not be honest about it?"

December 01, 2011

Marlins agree with closer Heath Bell to 3-year, $27 million deal according to reports

The Marlins appear to have a new closer.

Heath BellAccording to multiple sources, the Marlins and All-Star Heath Bell agreed on a three-year deal Thursday night estimated at $9 million per, all pending a physical Friday here in South Florida. ESPN first reported the story.

With the future of incumbent closer Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez) up in the air, the Marlins have apparently been working behind the scenes on Bell for awhile.

The 34-year-old right-hander is coming off a 43-save season with the Padres that made him the only closer in baseball who has saved 40-plus games in each of the past three seasons.

Bell was 43 of 48 on save opportunities last season and finished the year with a 2.44 ERA and a WHIP of 1.15.

Assuming he passes the physical, Bell would be the first major free agent the Marlins will have signed since changing their name to the Miami Marlins and moving into the new ballpark.

The Marlins' have wined and dined All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, first baseman Albert Pujols and veteran pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson this offseason.

While Bell's strikeout rate declined in 2011, from 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010 to 7.3 this year, his average fastball velocity (94 mph), WHIP (1.15), ERA (2.44) and opponent average (.223) were all in line with his previous performance.

The Marlins led the National League in blown saves in 2010 with 25 and improved last season to sixth fewest with 19. The Marlins also owned the sixth lowest bullpen ERA in baseball (3.44) despite the fourth most innings worth of work (515 1/3). 

By signing Bell, the Marlins can now keep Edward Mujica, Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn in setup and late inning roles. Mujica went 9-6 with a team-leading 17 holds and a 2.96 ERA. Cishek was a pleasant rookie surprise, posting a 2.63 ERA while picking up three saves late in the year. Dunn went 5-6 with a 3.43 ERA.

Oviedo, meanwhile, remains in the Dominican Republic where he continues to sort out immigration issues. It wasn't certain that even if Oviedo were cleared soon the Marlins would have tendered him an offer. He stands to make up to $6 million through salary arbitration. It's likely the Marlins will now part ways.

May 24, 2011

Marlins waiting on JJ before deciding Saturday starter

SAN FRANCISCO -- With Jay Buente designated for assignment, Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said Tuesday he didn't know who would start Saturday night against the Dodgers.

Josh Johnson But it's a safe bet he'll have answer after he finds out how Josh Johnson's right shoulder feels after he plays catch Wednesday for the first time in five days.

Johnson, who was placed on the disabled list retroactive to his last start May 17 with inflammation in his shoulder, was hopeful he would be available to pitch June 1st. But it appears the Marlins could be on the verge of now taking a more cautious approach.

"Replacing JJ is not an easy task," Rodriguez said. "[Saturday] might be a bullpen day, [the starter] might be a guy down in the minor leagues.

"I think it all depends on JJ. We’ll see if he’s able to get ready for June 1st. Right now, we don’t have a word on how JJ is doing because he hasn’t thrown yet. It all depends on how JJ recovers."

Johnson, who made the trip with the Marlins to San Francisco, said his shoulder "feels a lot better than it did before." But asked if he was still targeting June 1st, he said "I’m not really targeting anything."

"I just want to get it healthy and ready to go, ready to go for the long haul," Johnson said. "It’s not a reach [I could pitch June 1]. But we’re going to make sure it’s totally gone before we get it ramped up."

The Marlins could opt to start long reliever Burke Badenhop, who is 2-3 with a 6.95 ERA in 10 career major league starts. Or, they could dip down into their system and take right-hander Tom Koehler, who is 5-0 with a 2.92 ERA for Triple A New Orleans.

Either way, Wednesday’s starter Chris Volstad said the rest of the Marlins rotation needs to step up with Johnson out.

"Javi [Vazquez] did a great job the other night. He dominated," Volstad said. "Hopefully with JJ it will be a short term thing and he’ll only miss one other start. But until then, we have to pick up the slack and try to pitch as well he does to keep us in the race. That starts with me."

May 20, 2011

Javi Vazquez doesn't look like he'll be pitching with his job on the line Saturday

Javi Vazquez's first eight starts of the season haven't exactly gone the way the Marlins envisioned it when they signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal this winter.

So how important will his ninth start be Saturday against the Rays? Well, it doesn't appear like he's pitching for his job -- at least not yet.

"I think [this start] is very important for Javi, but I think it's more important for us, the Florida Marlins," manager Edwin Rodriguez said Friday.

"We need to establish and solidify that rotation. And without him in the rotation, we don't have many options. He's going to have to step up, make adjustments because that rotation, the one we send out there, that's the one we plan on using. We're going to stay with that rotation and see how far it takes us."

Vazquez is 2-4 and has a 7.55 ERA that ranks 148th out of 150 starting pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched this season. He's been working with pitching coach Randy St. Claire since spring training "to use his body more" on his delivery. The problem Rodriguez said he sees is Vazquez's mental approach, adding, "he needs to be aggressive with secondary pitches. He's trying to be perfect with those secondary pitches."

According to a report from fangraphs.com, Vazquez's fastball velocity (88.2 mph) is the slowest of his career and he's getting swings and misses on just 9.5 percent of all his pitches, compared with 26.7 percent two years ago. Asked if Vazquez is getting enough break on his secondary pitches, St. Claire said "yeah."

Ultimately, Rodriguez and St. Claire are hoping if Vazquez can get past his first inning struggles (he's given up at least one run in the first inning of every start and has a 15.25 ERA in the frame) he may be able to turn things around.

"As an organization and manager you have to have a Plan B for everything," Rodriguez said. "If you look down at the minor leagues the guys were thinking about are hurt or struggling. You look at the bullpen, there's nobody there you can rely on for those starts. We're relying on him."

St. Claire said the pitcher who is likely the closest to being ready down in the minors in 27-year old right-hander Jay Buente, who is 3-0 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 1.94 ERA. The drawback? Buente, a former reliever, has just five minor league starts this season under his belt.

"Right now he's locating his fastball and he's using his curveball," St. Claire said.

"Out of the bullpen he was just fastball, splitty and he wasn't commanding his fastball. That's where he got in trouble here, his walks. He's not walking anybody down there. He's walking a guy every four or five innings. Maybe the starting role has helped him out where he's found that fastball command and he's using his curveball more. Last year he came up here and he didn't use a curveball. I talked to him about using it when he went down. Then, he had shoulder issues and they shut him down. Now, he has three pitches working for him."

St. Claire said left-hander Sean West, who went 8-8 with a 5.03 ERA in 22 big league starts over the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Marlins, is close to finishing up rehab in Triple A.

"He looked good in spring," St. Claire said. "He was throwing the ball over the plate. It was just about getting his pitch count up and getting him back into pitching."

Asked who had the best stuff among the minor league pitchers he saw this spring, St. Claire said: "Probably [Tom] Koehler. He's got a good arm. He's probably the second guy right now."

Koehler is 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA in New Orleans. But his last start May 16 lasted just two innings as he walked five and gave up three hits and three earned runs.

> Staff ace Josh Johnson, who took a come backer to the mound off his right forearm Monday night against the Mets, threw his usual bullpen session Thursday. St. Claire said the extra day off caused by Tuesday's rain out "worked out nice" for Johnson.

"Hopefully the pain in out of there," St. Claire said. "He didn’t throw many breaking balls [during his session], but he doesn’t throw many anyways. He spins a few, but doesn't throw a lot on his sides, mainly locates his fastball and his changeup. Depending on his fingers feel and the blisters and stuff, he'll spin a few balls."

> Rodriguez said it's likely Chris Coghlan will get Saturday off when the Marlins face left-hander David Price. Coghlan, mired in a 13 for 77 (.169) slump since pulling himself out of a game against the Dodgers with shoulder pain, is hitting just .106 (5 for 47) against lefties this season.

"I think he’s getting late to the hitting position," Rodriguez said. "I think he needs to start earlier. We already approached that so he’s working on that."

Could it be the shoulder? "The trainer says he’s fine," Rodriguez said. "He’s been very honest through his career with me. He says he’s fine. He’s just struggling at the plate."

Rodriguez said he would hit Emilio Bonifacio in the leadoff spot and not Hanley Ramirez when Coghlan is out of the lineup.

> Left fielder Logan Morrison said he was saddened to hear about the death Friday of former wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage. "I only ate Slim Jim because of him, " Morrison said. "I was a big wrestling fan for like two years and when I was he was my dude. I would try to emulate his voice 'Step into a Slim Jim, oh yeah!' Then your voice would get hoarse. It's sad man. He's my guy. He'd get you jacked up."

Savage, whose real name is Randy Poffo, actually played in the minor leagues in the early 1970s for the Cardinals and Reds.

FRIDAY'S LINEUPS

> Marlins (24-18):
1. Chris Coghlan CF, 2. Hanley Ramirez SS, 3. Logan Morrison LF, 4. Gaby Sanchez 1B, 5. Greg Dobbs 3B, 6. Mike Stanton RF, 7. John Buck C, 8. Omar Infante 2B, 9. Anibal Sanchez P.

> Rays (25-19):
1. John Jaso C, 2. Ben Zobrist 2B, 3. Johnny Damon LF, 4. Evan Longoria 3B, 5. Matt Joyce RF, 6. B.J. Upton CF, 7. Casey Kotchman 1B, 8. Elliot Johnson SS, 9. Andy Sonnanstine P.

April 20, 2011

Hot starts nothing new for JJ

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- The season may only be a few weeks old, but Marlins ace Josh Johnson is already back on top of the statistical leader board. But to be honest, that's nothing new.

Josh Johnson The two hits Johnson allowed over seven scoreless innings Tuesday night against the Pirates not only lowered his ERA to an NL-leading 1.00, but it also dropped his WHIP to a league-leading 0.59 (St. Louis' Kyle Lohse is second with a 0.85). JJ's three wins are tied for most in the NL and his 27 Ks rank fourth overall (only Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Sanchez have more).

"If you want to start a franchise and pick a pitcher, you're not going to go wrong picking him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after Tuesday's loss to the Marlins. "He shut us down tonight. You're going to have those games in the big leagues. At the Major League level, there are a handful of pitchers that they stop you. You've got to catch them maybe when they're a little bit off or you get some opportunities to get some men on base, and we didn't have either one of those. He was not off and we didn't have anyone on base. They faced one man over the minimum as a team for the night."

Of course, hot starts are nothing new for JJ. In each of the past two seasons, he's started 8-2 with a 1.80 ERA over his first 15 starts in 2010 and 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA over his first 15 starts in 2009.

His best four game start prior to this season was in 2009 when he went 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts.

While his new added pitch -- a slow curveball -- has drawn a lot of attention, the Pirates were mesmerized by JJ's fastball.

"His fastball is definitely his pitch," said Garrett Jones, one of two Pirates to get a hit off Johnson Tuesday. "Sometimes it cuts, it comes in on lefties and it goes away from righties, and he can two-seam it a little bit too. With being how big he is on the mound too, it gets on you quick. It's got a lot of life, a heavy fastball we call it. He's real effective throwing a lot of fastballs, mixing in an off-speed here and there, but his main pitch is hitting his spot with his fastball."

> Left fielder Logan Morrison, who strained the arch in his left foot during his first at-bat Tuesday and left the game after the fourth inning, is not in Wednesday's lineup for the Marlins. Morrison was wearing a protective boot on his left foot after the game. Emilio Bonifacio will start in left in his place.

Morrison came in with a .327 batting average, second highest among Marlins regulars. He went 1-for-3 Tuesday night to extend his hitting streak to 10 games.

> Marlins lineup for Wednesday: 1. Chris Coghlan CF, 2. Omar Infante 2B, 3. Hanley Ramirez SS, 4. Gaby Sachez 1B, 5. Greg Dobbs 3B, 6. Mike Stanton RF, 7. John Buck C, 8. Emilio Bonifacio LF, 9. Ricky Nolasco P.

March 13, 2011

Marlins RHP Anibal Sanchez still feeling effects of Thursday's line drive off his right shin

JUPITER -- The pain hasn't gone away for Anibal Sanchez. In fact, he said Sunday that it has begun to spread.

Anibal Sanchez The Marlins No. 4 starter, hit on his right shin by a line drive back to the mound during his last start on Thursday, said he's begun feeling discomfort in his ankle as the swelling in his shin has gone down.

"I'm okay, but my ankle is hurting a little bit and I'm not sure why," Sanchez said. "I think the inflammation is going down and that's affecting my ankle some, causing discomfort."

Sanchez said he completed his bullpen session Saturday without much discomfort. But he couldn't push off his ankle on Sunday and was walking gingerly in the clubhouse. 

"During my bullpen I felt very good," Sanchez said. "I thought I was going to be better today. But that hasn't been the case."

This wasn't the first time Sanchez was hit on his shin. He said David Wright plunked him in the same spot during spring training in 2007. Thursday, it was the Mets' Russ Adams who hit him.

"It was the same pitch a fastball inside to Wright," Sanchez said. "This one was a fastball outside."

As much as it hurts, Sanchez said he doesn't expect to be out long. He's scheduled to start Tuesday in Port Charlotte when the Marlins face the Rays. Manager Edwin Rodriguez said Sean West would probably pitch in Sanchez's place if he's unable to go. 

"It's still very early in spring training," Sanchez said. "I've made a few starts and I have a few left, even if I miss this next one. My arm feels great, I don't have any problems. I'll just try to recuperate as fast as I can."

Edwin not worried about rotation's rocky start

JUPITER -- Television cameras from FoxSports are here at Roger Dean Stadium to broadcast the first of four Marlins spring training games. They picked a pretty good day. 

Ricky Nolasco.pg Ricky Nolasco is set to make his first start of the spring since injuring his right thumb after slipping and falling during conditioning drills in Miami in early February. The Marlins, losers of five straight, would obviously love to see Nolasco do well for a couple reasons. First off, they want to make sure they're No. 2 starter remains on path to start the season in Game 2 versus the Mets. 

The other reason? Outside of Javi Vazquez, the team's projected starting rotation hasn't exactly gotten off to a great start. Ace Josh Johnson got lit up by the Red Sox Saturday and is 0-2 with 10.00 ERA in three starts. Chris Volstad didn't get a lot of defensive help in his last start (the Marlins made five errors versus the Mets), but he's 1-2 with a 7.88 ERA in three spring starts. And Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 4.15 ERA) took a hard line drive off his right shin in his last start Thursday. 

Health issues aside, should we chalk up the struggles to guys simply working on pitches during the first two weeks of meaningless spring training games? Or, is there a real cause for concern when you add up the injuries and the struggles?

"I have no concerns about the starting pitchers," manager Edwin Rodriguez said Sunday morning, about three hours before the first scheduled pitch against the Nationals at 1:05 p.m.

"I saw [Nolasco] throwing a live BP. He's ready to go. JJ, there's no concern. Every time he goes out there, he knows what he's doing. Everything he does is for a purpose. He was working on his change up yesterday and before that he was working with something in his last outing. Javi is going to be fine. Anibal Sanchez is no concern. And I like what I have seen with Volstad. I know it was a tough one in [Port] St. Lucie against the Mets, but I think he just made one bad pitch. Other than that, it was the defense."

So what has Rodriguez been looking for and seen that's keeping him at ease?

"First is the command of the secondary pitches. If they throw that changeup for strikes, that breaking ball for strikes you know that's a very good sign, especially this early in spring training," he said. "Then, it's the tempo of the game. Sometimes, if guys don't feel good or they don't have the confidence in their pitches, they will kind of slow down their tempo. But if they're working [fast], they're on. That's a good sign too."

Here's what else Edwin shared with the beat writers Sunday morning: 

> Anibal Sanchez (bruised right shin) threw a bullpen session Saturday and is still on schedule to make his next start on Tuesday versus the Rays in Port Charlotte. If he can't go, Rodriguez said Sean West will likely start in his place. "If he misses something it's going to be only one start," Rodriguez said. "Other than that, he's going to be fine. He threw yesterday and did good. He has two more days to go. I think he'll should be alright. But it's his push off leg."

> Rodriguez is hopeful right fielder Mike Stanton (strained right quadriceps) will begin taking live batting practice or playing in simulated games down in the minors this coming week. Stanton was on the field at Roger Dean Stadium with his teammates participating in running drills Sunday morning. But he wasn't going full speed. Rodriguez said he still expects to see Stanton play in a few Grapefruit League games during the final week of spring training.

Asked if he would still consider batting Stanton in the clean-up spot if he doesn't get enough Grapefruit League at-bats, Rodriguez said: "It depends on how he looks. The good thing is we have good options. Gaby [Sanchez] has been doing fine. Let's put it this way, I'm not going to put Stanton in a situation where he feels uncomfortable. We don't know what he's capable of doing."

> Asked who he would like to see more of this spring, Rodriguez said: "I would like to see Chris Coghlan in center field and I would like to see Stanton how he handles that four-hole. I know [Coghlan] is going to be able to play the position. But also the infielders also want to know how far they have to go get a fly -- or the corners guys want to know how far they can go."

February 18, 2011

Nunez adds cutter/slider; Nolasco rests (thumb)

Marlins catcher John Buck was happy to get to work Friday with his new pitching staff. On his first day, he caught ace Josh Johnson, fellow new arrival Javi Vazquez and closer Leo Nunez.

Ricky Nolasco One guy Buck won't be able to catch for at least a week is Ricky Nolasco, who signed a three-year, $26.5 million contract in December. The reason? A sore thumb according to manager Edwin Rodriguez."

"He's 100 percent. His knee is 100 percent. It's just his thumb. He said he's fine, but there's no sense taking the chance with him," Rodriguez said. "The doctor said there was no concern.

"I think he was working, going back and forth and doing his conditioning before he got here [when he was hurt]. I think he slid or something. We'll wait one more week and see. I don't think it's a concern."

Nolasco was unavailable for comment.

As for the other pitchers and catchers who got to work Friday, Buck said he thought Johnson, Vazquez and Nunez all looked very good.

Nunez, who signed a $3.65 million deal in January, impressed Rodriguez and Buck with a new pitch -- a slider/cutter. Nunez said he used the pitch "maybe two or three times" last season, but plans on using it a lot more after spending all winter perfecting it.

"It was the best sliders I ever caught from him," said Buck, who spent four seasons with Nunez in Kansas City. "He didn't have that type of slider in Kansas City ever. It was a non-existant pitch. The slider he was throwing today were definitely competitive. It just adds one more pitch to the repertoire. I think it will definitely be effective."

Nunez, who lost his closer's role to Clay Hensley in September of last season, said he's gained five pounds of muscle in the offseason. Rodriguez said on Monday Nunez will begin the season as the team's closer. Nunez said he thinks the addition of the slider will help him keep that job moving forward.

"I'm hoping I can get it to the point where I can use it a lot," Nunez said. "It's not 100 percent. But it's strong."

Upon first impression, Rodriguez agrees: "You can tell the difference. He's not jumping on the mound. He's got a nice and easy delivery. His arm action is down. He calls it a slider. I call it more of a cutter. It was very hard, down below the arm. I like what I saw in Leo.

"He needs that -- that pitch is going to make the other pitches better and it's going to have the hitter thinking both sides of the plate, in and out, instead of everything going middle away."

September 13, 2010

Back, shoulder pain end Josh Johnson's season

At the end of July, Josh Johnson was arguably the best pitcher in the National League and in serious contention for his first Cy Young award. On Monday, he became just another ailing Marlins player shut down for what's left of the season. 

Josh Johnson The two-time All-Star, who had been battling a strained muscle near the middle of his back since August and was scratched from a start last Friday after he began to feel pain in his shoulder during a bullpen session, said it was "just the smart thing to do."

"You have to be smart [with] things like this," said Johnson, who was 10-3 with a 1.72 ERA at the end of July. "I told them 'if something else starts hurting, if something else comes from my back, then I'm going to shut it down. I'll let you guys know.' They said 'OK.' Everything felt good until the last start.

"We did treatment for it. We did all the right stuff to get it right. The shoulder is actually getting a lot better. It's probably two or three days away from throwing, I'd say. But the back -- if the back's not 100 percent, then the shoulder is going to go right back [to feeling bad]."

Johnson said he first felt discomfort in his back "early in the year" before it went away and returned during an Aug. 7 start against the Cardinals. Over his final six starts, including that one in St. Louis, Johnson went 1-2 with a 3.68 ERA. He finishes the season 11-6 with a career-best 2.30 ERA and 186 strikeouts over 183 2/3 innings.

"I'm not one to make excuses -- you know that," Johnson said of his late season struggles. "Every now and then you could tell things were a little ragged, a little off. I was just trying to protect my back or subconsciously think of my back."

Monday was the first time in two months he actually woke up and didn't have pain. But with the Marlins eight games behind the Braves in the wild-card race and nine games back of the visiting Phillies in the division with 20 games remaining, nobody on either side figured it was smart to keep running him out on the mound.

"He was getting a little bit better, but he was very far from being 100 percent," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "Next year, this team is going to be very competitive and JJ has to be a big part of that. That was part of the decision and a factor in our decision.”

The Marlins of course also want to protect their investment. They gave Johnson, who is 33-12 with a 2.94 ERA since returning from reconstructive elbow surgery in July 2008, a $39 million, four-year contract in January. He's due to make $7.75 million in 2011 then $13.75 million in 2012 when the Marlins open their new ballpark, and again in 2013.

Johnson said the plan now is to try and have him come back and "throw" during the final week of the regular season. As for his season, Johnson didn't want to talk about what could have been. The Marlins' bullpen blew six starts in which Johnson handed them the lead this season.

"Even though he’s going to be shut down for the rest of the season, he still had a great year," Rodriguez said. "I think he was the best in the first half of the year. Although Ubaldo Jimenez got more wins, JJ was the best one first part of the season.”

> With Johnson done for the season and Chris Volstad and Alex Sanabia serving suspensions this week in the aftermath of the Nyjer Morgan fiasco, the Marlins are short on starting pitching. 

Rodriguez said the plan is to try and hold either Jorge Sosa or Burke Badenhop from pitching over the next two days so they can start Wednesday in Johnson's place. Badenhop, who started for the Marlins twice last season, is 2-3 with a 6.95 ERA in 10 career starts. Sosa is 27-39 with a 4.55 ERA in 88 career starts. Sosa. But he hasn't started a major league game since he pitched for the Mets on July 27, 2007.

> Center fielder Cameron Maybin was scratched from Monday's start with flu like symptoms and was replaced by Emilio Bonifacio.