Johnson has Girardi's praise

About 90 minutes before facing the Yankees, Josh Johnson was receiving praises from his former manager.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi called Johnson “one of the best pitchers in the National League.”

Johnson, the Marlins 25-year-old ace, was a rookie in 2006 when Girardi was Florida’s manager.

Even at the age of 22, Johnson showed flashes of becoming a standout.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the National League,” Girardi said. “I loved him from the day I saw him. I thought he had a chance to be real special. It’s not something that you’d say about a guy who really throws two pitches. I know he has the changeup now.”

Early in his career, Johnson was basically a fastball, slider pitcher. Now he had a two-seam fastball — his sinker — to go along with his four-seam fastball, which this year is reaching 98 mph on occasion.

“His location was great all the time,” Girardi said. “His mechanics were good. He had the great slider.”

Johnson entered Saturday night with 98 innings pitched. That was fourth most in the National League. However, he needed just three innings to reach Arizona’s Dan Haren (101) for the top spot.

The Marlins are 11-3 when Johnson starts, and the right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.76 ERA.

Johnson is making a strong case to be selected to the National League All-Star team, a decision that will be made by NL manager Charlie Manuel. Pitchers are not voted into the All-Star Game by the fans.

Asked if Johnson was All-Star worthy, Girardi said: “Absolutely. I don’t see the National League all the time. The numbers [wins and losses], you don’t look at that. You look at the innings and ERA. In those, he’s one of the best.”

Johnson is fifth in the NL in ERA, behind Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (2.17), Haren (2.23), San Francisco’s Matt Cain (2.39) and Tim Lincecum of the Giants (2.72).

– Joe Frisaro

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