Are JJ’s struggles a sign of rust … or more?

PHILADEPHIA — History has repeatedly shown us that the Marlins don’t lose much when Josh Johnson starts.

So naturally it’s a bit alarming when the Miami ace gets slapped around in his first two starts, dropping both contests.

In Wednesday’s 7-1 loss at Philadelphia, the right-hander gave up five runs on a career high 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings.

He struck out one, and has raised concern for Marlins’ fans everwhere.

Now, the questions are being asked: Is he healthy? Is he nibbling? Is he just rusty?

Could it be all of the above?

At least publicly, Johnson and the Marlins are not indicating heath is an issue.

A true professional, Johnson awaited reporters on Wednesday night, making no excuses.

Physically, he says he’s fine, which is the best news of the night. He looked and sounded confident that his shoulder is strong and healthy.

Granted, the windy, cold conditions weren’t ideal for his second start. His fastball was in the 92-93 mph range, occasionally reaching 94. Obviously, it’s down from the 95-97 mph plateau of the past.

But, it’s early in the season. And even the hardest throwers in the game don’t always start off at their peak. Velocity often increases with more throwing and when the temperatures heat up.

Remember, Johnson missed substantial time in 2011 with shoulder inflammation. It may be a matter of it taking some time.

Also, it’s not like he’s throwing 88-89. Many pitchers see a gradual dip in velocity through the years, but remain effective pitching in the lower 90s.

With all the time missed, it could be Johnson’s sharpness will gradually develop.

As long as he’s healthy, that likely will occur.

What is clear right now is JJ has yet to be the JJ of old.


* He’s allowed 21 hits in 9 2/3 innings in two starts. In April of 2011, Johnson gave up 18 hits in 41 innings and he was 3-0 with a 0.88 ERA.

* JJ has lost two straight starts for the first time since June 18-29, 2007, when he dropped three in a row. That year, he was shut down and eventually had Tommy John surgery.

* JJ struck out one on Wednesday night, his fewest since not fanning anyone at the White Sox on May 23, 2010.

* The 3 2/3 outing was his shortest stint since tossing that many on Aug. 13, 2010 at Cincinnati.

* Johnson also hasn’t won since April 19, 2011, a span of seven starts.

From the Phillies clubhouse, Shane Victorino offered this view: “I think he’s still trying to get back. He missed almost a whole year. I wouldn’t use the word rusty, but he’s still trying to get into a rhythm and back into game mode. It’s about taking advantage of a guy that’s – I’m not saying he’s not 100 percent, he might not be – not on top of his game.”

Maybe that’s it. JJ isn’t yet on top of his game.

Joe Frisaro


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