The Monday Takeaway
As the ESPN crew signed off from its Monday Night Baseball broadcast of the series opener between the Red Sox and Marlins, color man Rick Sutcliffe summed up the 4-1 Miami victory in four words: “Josh Johnson is back.”
Though Ozzie Guillen’s team won six consecutive Johnson starts between May 4 and May 30, the big right-hander struggled for two months to regain his dominant form of years past. His fastball velocity went in and out, and his command eluded him at times—such as the 2 2/3-inning, six-run clunker at Petco Park that, ironically, served as the springboard for the aforementioned winning streak.
A healthy Johnson is arguably the best pitcher in the National League, but the rust from a season lost to shoulder trouble was impeding his return to dominance.
Last night, up against the man he replaced at the front of the Marlins’ rotation, Johnson snapped Miami’s six-game skid with a performance worthy of Sutcliffe’s praise. He hit the mid-90s on the radar gun early and sustained that velocity throughout the 116-pitch outing, his highest count since consecutive 117-pitch starts last April. Steve Cishek and Heath Bell finished off the Red Sox, but it was Johnson who—with seven innings of one-run ball, during which he allowed only four hits and a walk while fanning seven—led the way for the home team by outdueling Josh Beckett.
The test for Johnson now will be bouncing back physically from this effort, which came on the heels of a 113-pitch loss to the Braves five days earlier. A string of four grueling starts, all ranging between 114 and 117 pitches, preceded Johnson’s trip to the 15-day disabled list last May. And though the Marlins initially expected him back by early June, that precautionary stint ballooned into a season-ender, leaving Johnson on the shelf with shoulder inflammation for the second straight September.
With off days on Thursday and Monday, the schedule will enable Guillen to gauge Johnson’s status and perhaps give him an extra day or two of rest. Assuming the Marlins do not alter their rotation, Johnson’s next start will come on Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay—but given his injury history and the length of his past two outings, Guillen could opt to push Johnson back to next Tuesday’s rematch with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. In that scenario, tonight’s starter, Mark Buehrle, would go on regular rest against the Rays.
Whatever the Marlins do from here, their losing streak is over and their ace is back. Now in third place and five games behind the NL East-leading Nationals, their fate may rest on the continued health of Johnson’s right shoulder.
What to Watch for on Tuesday
- If you ask Crash Davis, the pitching matchup of sinkerballers Chien-Ming Wang and Henderson Alvarez might be the most democratic of the season. Both righties have strikeout rates below 4.5 per nine innings and ground-ball rates higher than 55 percent for their careers, and they will square off in game two of the three-game series between the Nationals and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre tonight (7:07 p.m. ET).
- The Diamondbacks, winners of five in a row, might be the hottest team in the National League. Though Kirk Gibson’s squad is still just 30-30 overall and in third place, it has improved with the return of outfielder Chris Young and the recent resurgence of staff ace Ian Kennedy. After dropping five straight starts between May 3 and May 25, the 27-year-old righty has won his past two, recording 19 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings along the way. Kennedy will look to keep the ball rolling as he takes the bump in Arlington to face the Rangers tonight (8:05 p.m. ET).
- Road starts have not been kind to Zack Greinke since he came over to the National League two winters ago, and the Brewers’ ace has a 5.93 ERA away from Miller Park this season after posting a 4.70 mark last year. Tonight (8:10 p.m. ET) could prove an interesting test case of Greinke’s struggles, as he pitches at Kauffman Stadium, the only other major-league home he has known. It will be the 28-year-old’s first-ever start against his former team, the Royals, who will counter with Luis Mendoza in the series opener.
- The matchup between the White Sox and the Cardinals at Busch Stadium pits a first-place team against a third-place team, but had you told anyone that this would be the case in March, they likely would have picked the home squad to be the one atop its division. And they would have been wrong—despite a NL-high 18 homers from Carlos Beltran and poor efforts from two of Chicago’s top 2011 starters, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, to date. Rookie managers Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny will match wits for the first time, as Jose Quintana battles Adam Wainwright on the mound tonight (8:15 p.m. ET).