Monitoring Josh Johnson

Based on numbers and pure talent, Josh Johnson has established himself as one of the elite starting pitchers in the game.

Considering how bright his future is, the Marlins are being especially careful with how they use the 25-year-old in the final weeks of the season.

The way the team has mapped out is rotation, Johnson is slotted to make four more starts this season, including one of the double-header games with the Phillies on Sept. 22, and the final game of the season, on Oct. 4 at Philadelphia.

With 188 1/3 innings this year, Johnson already is well over his previous high for a season — 157 as a rookie in 2006.

Johnson underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in August 2007, and he returned to the rotation in July 2008. Combined in 2007 and 2008, Johnson threw 154 total innings.

“You’ve got to keep an eye on those things,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Here’s a guy who has four more starts, and he’s going to be at 200-plus innings.”

Even if the Marlins fall completely out of contention, the Marlins do not want to shut down their talented right-hander. Now, if he shows signs of laboring, physically, they may have to. But the hope is that doesn’t happen.

“I really think he’s doing fine,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t want to pull the plug on him, because we’ve got to get him through those thresholds. We’ve got to keep an eye on those stressful innings.”

Johnson was lifted after five innings and 89 pitches on Friday night in a no-decision against the Nationals. He struck out eight and walked four.

“Historically, through the year, when he throws 90 [pitches] he’s through the seventh,” Gonzalez said. “The most he’s gone is 119 in Toronto, in a complete game. Sure, you might have been able to run him back out there in the sixth, but we felt we would probably have to go get him, the way the game was going.”

Johnson’s career high for pitches in a game was 119 at Toronto on June 14.

The 6-foot-7 Oklahoma resident prides himself on working at least seven innings. As Gonzalez noted, when he was regularly getting through the seventh inning, his pitch count was around 90 at that point. Now, he’s getting close to that number in the fifth.

“We’ve got to run him out there every fifth day, but it’s a fine line,” Gonzalez said. “I think we’re doing the right thing, there is no question in my mind, we’re doing the right thing for the [player] and the team.”

— Joe Frisaro


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