PHOENIX (AP) -Randy Johnson pitched to batters for the first time in his latest comeback from a back injury on Tuesday, then acknowledged the possibility that he might not return this season - or maybe ever.
``I think everybody in this clubhouse, maybe not the players but the coaching staff and front office, would like to know, and I would like to know, whether I'm going to be able to pitch and help this organization,'' he said. ``If not, I think that I need to take care of things and they would need to take care of things.''
The 43-year-old left-hander didn't elaborate, but said what he will do depends on how he feels Tuesday night and Wednesday, after throwing 42 pitches to batters before the Arizona Diamondbacks played the Florida Marlins.
``Obviously, if I can come back and pitch,'' Johnson said, ``it's almost like they just made a trade.''
It was the first time Johnson had pitched to batters since his appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 29. He threw the equivalent of three innings and admitted he was tired.
``It's been almost 24 days since I pitched,'' Johnson said. ``I think when you haven't done anything, let alone something like that, physically and competitively for 24 days, my stamina was not what I like it to be.''
After two difficult seasons with the New York Yankees, Johnson was traded to Arizona in January, signing a two-year, $26 million contract to return to the team where he had gone 104-39 in six seasons, winning four Cy Young awards and a World Series championship.
He underwent back surgery in the offseason, and started the season on the DL as he worked his way back. When he took the mound, he went 4-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 10 starts. In one stretch, he was the best starter in the Arizona rotation.
But he went back to the DL with muscle tightness on June 11. He returned, but was ineffective, and was placed on the disabled list retroactive to June 29. Then came the diagnosis: a herniated disk in his lower back.
There would be no surgery. Instead, Johnson worked his way back under the direction of noted personal trainer Brett Fischer.
Johnson said he had no pain while pitching Thursday.
``I'm fine right now,'' he said, ``but we'll have to see. I'm not going to have it right away. It will come later on today and tomorrow when my body starts stiffening up.''
Johnson said he would need at least one more bullpen session to improve his endurance before considering a return.
Manager Bob Melvin said he was satisfied with Johnson's performance.
``He threw the ball pretty well for a guy who's been off the better part of a month now,'' Melvin said. ``We'll see how he feels tomorrow and see what the next step is.''
Melvin said Johnson's presence, as well as his performance, helps the team.
``Every time he went out there, we thought we were going to win the game,'' Melvin said. ``He makes everybody in the rotation better. He's a guy that's carried the team on his shoulders. The weight and the focus and everything is on him when he's out there. He's not afraid to pitch in the spotlight. When we lost him, it hurt us.''
Johnson will ultimately decide whether he returns to pitch with roughly the same injury that he had a year ago, before his surgery.
``More than anybody he's the guy who knows how he's feeling, and we'll have to go based on that,'' Melvin said. ``He's the guy who's been through it and has the experience pitching with it. We're not in his body and we don't know how he feels.''
And if the Big Unit hurts too much to return?
``I'll cross whatever bridge I have to when the time comes,'' Johnson said. ``Right now, I've thrown some pitches today. We'll see how I feel and go from there.''
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