PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Asked how miserable he was in a 2013 season in Toronto filled with arm pain and hard-hit balls, Josh Johnson chuckled and shook his head.
”Miserable might be an understatement,” Johnson said Friday. ”It was like two innings and all of a sudden eight runs are on the board. I had no idea what was going on. It was crazy.”
The right-hander was able to crack a smile in part because he has a surgically repaired elbow and a fresh start with the San Diego Padres, a combination he hopes will help him return to the form that included two All-Star selections and a National League-best 2.30 ERA with the Marlins in 2010.
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”Before he got hurt, to me, he was the most dominating pitcher in the National League and probably in the major leagues,” said Joaquin Benoit, another of the Padres’ offseason pitching acquisitions. ”It will be really good if he’s healthy. He’s going to be a really big piece for our rotation.”
That’s the plan for the normally thrifty Padres, who opened spring training Friday with the first workout for pitchers and catchers sporting a new look and a higher payroll.
The Padres signed Benoit away from Detroit with a two-year, $15.5 million deal to be their setup man, and inked Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal after his terrible season with the Blue Jays in hopes he can be an anchor in their rotation.
”Physically, mentally he’s in a good spot,” manager Bud Black said of Johnson.
That was not the case last year, or the past few seasons.
After going a combined 26-11 with 377 strikeouts for the Marlins in 2009-10, he had his season cut short a year later with shoulder trouble. He went just 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA in 2012 before he was traded to the Blue Jays after the season.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson said he struggled with his ”extension” in Toronto because of elbow problems. It led to command issues, and getting balls up in the strike zone in hitter-friendly Rogers Centre proved costly.
Johnson went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA and allowed 15 home runs in 16 starts as the Blue Jays were one of the more disappointing teams in baseball.
After undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow Oct. 1, the Blue Jays decided not to give him a qualifying offer. Johnson then told his agent he wanted to play for San Diego or San Francisco, so he could be closer to his Las Vegas home. Moving to a pitcher-friendly park wouldn’t hurt, either.
Knowing he’d likely have to accept a one-year deal, he took the Padres’ offer, taking a pay cut from the four-year, $39 million deal he signed with the Marlins.
Now he joins a franchise looking to rebound from consecutive 76-86 seasons, with free agency looming again next offseason.
”I want to get to the playoffs. I want to be in that atmosphere, to be throwing in October,” said Johnson, who turned 30 last month. ”If you go out there and you perform, the money’s going to be there.”
Johnson, who has thrown off a mound five times since the surgery, threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session with catcher Yasmani Grandal on Friday morning without problems. Black said he’ll throw again on Sunday and that he’s on the same schedule as the rest of the healthy starters.
”The short time I’ve been around him, I love his mindset, I love his makeup, his mentality, his aggressiveness,” catcher Nick Hundley said. ”I think his body of work kind of speaks for itself. He’s a multiple-time All-Star. He led the league in ERA. I don’t think you luck into those types of things.
”We’re excited to have him. Now hopefully he stays healthy and he can be out there a lot for us.”
NOTES: Black said they ”probably won’t” carry three catchers, signaling it’s an important camp for Grandal, who is recovering from knee surgery. . Black indicated RHP Casey Kelly is ”three weeks, four weeks behind” the rest of the staff as he recovers from elbow reconstruction surgery. . The only player missing was LHP Alex Torres, who’s dealing with a visa issue in Venezuela and is expected next week. . A Padres spokesman said they’re close to selling out the opener March 30 against the Dodgers.