Monday, June 21, 2010

Time to give Josh his due

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game against the Marlins. Ubaldo Jimenez tossed a no-no against the Braves. Stephen Strasburg has set the record for most strikeouts through the first 3 starts of a career. Mike Leake skipped the minors and made it until mid-June before losing a game. Tim Lincecum, despite a few rough outings, is having another typically stellar year for the Giants. Adam Wainwright is looking more and more like the #1 starter in the Cardinals rotation. Armando Galaraga pitched what many are already calling the first 28 out perfect game in history. Rotations everywhere -- especially in the NL -- are dominated by young, up and coming pitchers. And sooner or later, Cuban import Aroldis Chapman will get the call from AAA Louisville to help settle down the Cincinatti Reds starting rotation.

It just might be the biggest year for pitchers since the dead ball era ended. Yet for all of the talk about other names, one pitcher out there continues to amaze with little hype, if any at all. Josh Johnson looked like a star in the making after going 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 133 Ks in 2006. His 2007 season ended early and Johnson hit the DL after only pitching 15.2 innings. Tommy John surgery followed, but Johnson made it back to pitch towards the end of 2008. Johnson was decent, but took some time to settle in as his control returned. 2009 saw him return to the form many expected as he won 15 with a 3.23 ERA and 191 Ks. As we opened 2010, many expected Johnson to be a Cy Young contender.

He struggled out of the gate this season as he failed to go deeper than 6 innings in each of his first 4 starts while posting a 1-1 record. Then on April 26, he tossed a complete game giving up only 3 hits and 1 earned run, and it looked as if he had turned a corner. He followed that game with two somewhat rough outings vs. the Nationals where he gave up 5 ER in 12 total innings, but did record one win. From that point forward, the man has been among the best -- if not the best -- pitchers in baseball. He's in the midst of a sting of 8 games where he's pitched at least 7 innings in every game except one, and has not given up more than one earned run in any of those starts. He's seen his ERA shrink from 3.35 on May 8 to 1.80 after a dominating 8 inning, 6 hit, 1 run performance against one of the best teams in baseball - the Tampa Bay Rays. He's also faced the Phillies' Roy Halladay twice in that span -- losing one as "Doc" pitched a perfect game and winning the other.

He's a sure bet to be an All Star and has put his hat into the ring for the NL Cy Young. If Johnson pitched anywhere besides South Florida -- where you might be pitching in front of a crowd of 3,000 on a good night -- he'd be a household name. As it is, he might just be the most underrated starter in the game.

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