Can Josh Johnson Turn Things Around?By
The Miami Marlins’ most notable moves of the past winter were undoubtedly the free agent acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Mark Bueherle, and Heath Bell, but perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects was the return of ace Josh Johnson. After missing most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, the Marlins entered the year hoping that Johnson would be ready to anchor their rotation in their quest for the NL East crown. But unfortunately for Ozzie Guillen and Co., Johnson’s start to the year has been anything but pretty.
Through seven starts this season, Johnson is sporting an ugly 5.87 ERA and has already had three starts where he has given up five runs or more. And although he’s coming off a solid seven inning start against the Astros in his last outing, perhaps the most concerning element to Johnson’s 2012 campaign was Ozzie Guillen’s recent comments to the Miami Herald, who told the paper that he wondered if Johnson was “not feeling good.”
It’s hard to diagnose a player if the player in question is not coming out and saying that they feel injured in any way, but the Marlins understand how much more difficult it would be to secure a playoff spot without Johnson returning to at least resembling something of his former self.
Johnson’s fastball is sitting at 92.5 mph on average this season, a steep decline from even just two seasons ago, when he was at just a shade below 95. Perhaps as a result, he has relied less on his fastball this season and is throwing more curveballs and changeups.
Shoulder injuries are notoriously difficult for pitchers to recover from and this season we’ve already seen Yankees’ righty Michael Pineda shut down for at least a year because of a torn labrum, leaving questions as to what kind of pitcher he will be when he does come back. Ozzie Guillen was understanding of Johnson’s situation even as early as spring training, saying that if he needed to skip a start to get more rest, he could do so.
Other than the decrease in velocity, most of Johnson’s numbers have been just about on par with his career averages, with the only outlier being a line drive rate of 27.0%.
The Marlins only enjoyed nine starts from Johnson last season, but if they intend on staying in the playoff hunt all the way into September, Johnson will need to be a key contributor. The rest of the rotation has done a good job at picking up the slack so far in 2012, and if rest is in fact what Johnson needs, now could perhaps be the best time to do it. But in the end, a Miami run in October may only be possible as far as their ace can take them.