MODESTO, Calif. (AP) – Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks allowed two runs and four hits in six innings of a minor league start for Class-A Visalia on Sunday.
The five-time Cy Young Award winner was routinely clocked in the low 90s (mph) but was far from overpowering in his second of three scheduled minor league appearances. The left-hander, who has been on the disabled list since March 31 after undergoing back surgery in the offseason, struck out four but twice had to pitch out of trouble in what was his most extensive work of the spring.
“I think I’m yet (to be) convinced that I’m ready to pitch at the major league level,” Johnson said. “I’d like to get my velocity going here a little, but I feel comfortable with everything else. Not content by any means. It’s kind of hard to gauge how successful you really are when you’re pitching against minor league kids because they’re so aggressive, it’s hard to set people up. But overall, I feel comfortable.”
Johnson retired his first seven batters against Class-A Modesto, a Colorado Rockies affiliate, before giving up a double to Daniel Carte that bounced off the wall on one hop. One batter later, Eric Young Jr. – the son of former major leaguer Eric Young – singled to drive in Carte. Johnson got out of the inning with a strikeout.
The Big Unit ran into trouble again in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff single to Chris Nelson followed by a hard-hit RBI double off the left-field wall by Phillip Cuardado.
Johnson settled down after that, retiring his final nine batters and spearing a line drive to end the fifth. After making the catch, Johnson patted his heart and tipped his cap as the crowd cheered.
He threw 73 pitches, 58 for strikes, and left to a standing ovation. He shook hands with several Visalia pitchers in the bullpen on his way out and paid the $2,200 bill for the Oaks’ postgame meal.
“I think I’m still building up,” Johnson said. “I don’t know a power pitcher that can throw 11 innings and be pleased with where he’s at. You see a lot of power pitchers in the major leagues now that aren’t throwing 95 (mph).”
In a simulated game last Tuesday, the left-hander threw 60 pitches in four innings against Triple-A Tucson. Johnson is slated to pitch against Tucson again Friday before rejoining the Diamondbacks, potentially against San Diego on April 18 or 19.
There had been talk that he might skip that final minor league start. But Johnson, who needs 20 wins to reach 300, wants to get in additional work before making his major league debut this season.
“We’ll adjust accordingly, but the plan is to have him throw Friday,” said Diamondbacks director of player development A.J. Hinch, who accompanied Johnson on the trip. “I thought he was good. He threw a lot of strikes. … His slider was very, very good. We’re still in mid-March for him, so it’s very good.”
Johnson, who grew up an hour from Modesto in Walnut Creek, made quite a stir with his appearance on Easter Sunday. It also was a promotional boon for the Nuts.
Fans began lining up at the gates of the 4,200-seat stadium two hours before gametime. Adjustments also had to be made to handle the extra media covering the game.
Routinely the tallest player in any major league ballpark, the 6-foot-10 Johnson wasn’t even the tallest pitcher on Visalia’s roster. At 7-1, right-hander Ryan Doherty held that distinction.
In addition to his 280 wins, Johnson has 4,544 strikeouts, the most by a left-hander in major league history. He trails only Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan on the career strikeout chart.
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