JJ regains his tap and tempo

MIAMI — A little glove tap just may be a big step forward for Josh Johnson.

For more than a month, the Marlins ace has been scuffling to find his tempo and timing.

Kelly Gavin/Miami Marlins

On Tuesday night, something clicked. Mainly it was adding a simple tap of the ball in his hand into this glove just prior to delivering his pitch.

“Having a little tap or at least moving,” Johnson said helped him regain his rhythm. “I’ve been doing that my whole career. Getting away from that now is bad.”

So much of pitching is making sure everything is moving together properly. For JJ, that tap mechanism helps keep him in line.

Johnson didn’t feel right in his first two starts, both losses. His second outing was at Philadelphia. The day after that game, he played catch at Citizens Bank Park. Something came to him during a simple throwing session. Perhaps it was muscle memory, but the tap returned.

He wondered why throwing catch felt better than when he was on the mound.

So he watched video with pitching coach Randy St. Claire, and noticed when he separated his hands, he came straight back.

Although Johnson didn’t get the win on Tuesday when Miami beat the Cubs, 5-2, the right-hander did go seven innings, and he had an encouraging outing.

Strikeouts still are down right now for Johnson, who had three on Tuesday. But he feels that the more he is comfortable with his mechanics, the more strikeouts he will collect.

“Oh yeah, [the adjustment] made my slider a lot sharper,” he said. “Later in the game, it was even better. My changeup was actually pretty good, and curveball was better too.”

Returning from a shoulder injury, Johnson’s velocity right now isn’t in the upper 90s as it was in the past. It’s more in the 92-94 range.

It’s taking a little while for his slider to get sharp. It’s tended to move more side-to-side than breaking downward. In the fourth inning on Tuesday, that pitch started to get better.

Perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the shoulder injury was the addition of a curveball.

Johnson got out of the sixth inning on Tuesday when Alfonso Soriano tapped a curveball into a 5-4-3 double play. Catcher John Buck pointed out to Johnson that he needed a slower pitch to keep the hitters honest.

“It’s to slow guys down,” Johnson said. “Buck came out, said, ‘We need something softer.’ Once I get more comfortable again, I’ll be able to throw my slider at different speeds.”

The curveball gives him another pitch to go along with his fastball, sinker, changeup and slider.

Getting fully back to his All-Star form is a work in progress, but JJ is getting there.

Joe Frisaro

 

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