Step aside, Roy. Take a seat, Cliff.
It’s J.J.’s turn to shine.
And I can say with unfettered conviction that Josh Johnson is the most dominant pitcher of this young 2011 season. I’m not sure it’s open for much debate, especially when you consider Johnson has taken no-hitters into the fifth, seventh and eighth innings in three of his four starts en route to a 3-0 record in 27 IP, while leading the majors in ERA (1.00), WHIP (0.65) and BAA (.112) – all by significant margins. He also leads both leagues in opponent OBP (.168), SLG (.168) and OPS (.348), so it’s easy to understand why everyone is jumping on the J.J. bandwagon.
After Johnson’s 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K performance in Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh, in which he held the Pirates hitless until the fifth, MLB network’s Greg Amsinger predicted Johnson will get his first no-hitter this season, and no one on the set challenged him. Harold Reynolds went so far as to say that J.J. has “the best stuff in baseball,” while Larry Bowa added “he’s among the top two or three pitchers.”
So why the big-time lovefest? For starters, Johnson hasn’t given up a run in 17 innings; the last being a solo home run by Washington’s Jayson Werth on April 7. In his previous outing against the Braves, he flirted with a no-hitter into the eighth inning. His control has been impeccable and he has even unveiled a new pitch — a curve — to go along with his 98-mph fastball, nasty slider and bottom-dropping change up. At 27, Johnson’s in his prime. Save for time missed while recovering from Tommy John surgery for most of 2007 and half of 2008, statistical trends indicate he’s on the verge of a dominant season:
While Johnson has dominated single games in the past and had stretches of brilliance in previous seasons, his durability and conditioning has been questioned, and rightfully so. In 2010, the 6-7, 250-pound, right-hander was a leading candidate for the Cy Young award during the first half of the season. Through his first 20 starts, J.J. was 10-3 with a 1.61 ERA and an opponent BAA of .207. Then the wheels came off. From late July on, until he was shut down for the season in early September, Johnson was 1-3. During that period, his ERA was 4.20 and opponents were hitting at a .283-clip — all indicators of fatigue.
So, during the off-season, Johnson vowed to come into the next camp prepared for the long haul. He attended the Philipi Sports Institute over the winter and worked on a program that targeted his lower back and core – which left him in the best shape of his six-year career. He came to spring training leaner, more muscular and more determined than ever to pitch a full and healthy season.
Johnson’s next scheduled start is Sunday at Sun Life Stadium against hot-hitting Troy Tulowitzki and the NL-West leading Colorado Rockies. Could this be the day of the no-no? Greg Amsinger and I will be watching. Will you?