MIAMI (AP) -Josh Johnson is ready to take an important step toward returning to the Florida Marlins' rotation.
The right-hander - who's been sidelined by an elbow injury since January - completed a bullpen session without pain Saturday and will throw three innings or about 60 pitches in a Gulf Coast League game at the Marlins' training complex in Jupiter, Fla., on Tuesday.
``It's a huge step. ... It's not easy, but we're almost there,'' Johnson said.
There's no firm timetable for his return to the majors, but Johnson said he's hopeful he can be back in ``maybe 15 days,'' which would allow him to make three rehab starts and rejoin the Marlins sometime in mid-June.
The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Johnson went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA as a rookie last season. He missed the final three weeks with a strained forearm muscle after going back to the mound following an 82-minute rain delay against the New York Mets on Sept. 12.
He was diagnosed in March with an irritated ulnar nerve - a problem that Johnson said was unrelated to the forearm strain. He began feeling elbow pain after a throwing session in January.
``We don't want to rush him,'' Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ``We've got to make sure he's healthy and ready to go and when he's out there he stays out there, with no setbacks.''
Johnson threw 40 to 45 pitches Saturday in the Marlins' bullpen, mostly fastballs and sliders to catcher Matt Treanor under the watchful eye of Florida pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
``I know he's been feeling good,'' Treanor said. ``He looks good and he's definitely going to be welcome when he's ready to go.''
The Marlins originally feared Johnson may be lost for the entire season when his elbow pain began. Now, though, Kranitz said Johnson is finally seeing ``the light at the end of the tunnel.''
``It's so nice to see him throwing the way he's throwing,'' Kranitz said. ``He just looks like the old Josh Johnson, which is really nice to see.''

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