Big Unit surveys first spring outing
Veteran left-hander feels positive about his first Cactus game
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Randy Johnson was happy to be back on the mound in a game situation Monday afternoon, he just wished it had lasted longer.
The D-backs left-hander worked 1 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on four hits in his first game action since his back surgery last August. Johnson walked one and struck out one while throwing 33 pitches, 20 for strikes.
Johnson did not experience any back discomfort during his outing and was in good spirits afterwards, as he spent nearly 30 minutes talking with reporters.
"I wasn't too worried about too many things today," he said. "Just let me go out there and have some fun, don't fall on my face and don't kill any hitters."
Johnson said that with a smile, but there were times on the mound when he appeared far less happy. Most of those expressions came in his second inning of work when the Rockies did all of their damage against him, thanks to a three-run homer from Chris Iannetta.
"There's a lot of things I could be happy with, just getting through a competitive lineup once," Johnson said. "Obviously, the results weren't great, but even in years past, I'm not looking too much at the results [in Spring Training], I'm looking to gain some endurance and stamina and work on my location. I think, minus the result, that there were a lot of positive things."
At this point, Johnson is just looking to build up his strength and stamina, but when you are as competitive as he is, it is not easy to ignore the results. In the second inning when he began to struggle a bit, Johnson felt like he backed off a bit more than he should have.
"I don't care if it's Spring Training or my son's Little League team I'm pitching against, I don't want to give up any hits," he said. "So I just got a little sidetracked. I went into a defensive mode, which I've never done before. I think I started to pitch a little defensively and not just let the ball go."
After his meeting with reporters, Johnson headed back to Tucson Electric Park for his normal post-start workout. On Tuesday, he will begin the process of getting ready for his next start, which will be on Saturday against the Angels in Tempe.
Though he claimed to not be "walking on eggshells" heading into the game, Johnson did admit that there was at least some trepidation with regards to how he would feel health-wise.
"I look forward to my next start Saturday, to really get some work out of that game," said Johnson, whose last outing of 2007 came on June 28 against the Dodgers. "Today was kind of anything could have happened. I could have thrown a pitch and it could have been over and it wasn't. Point being, I didn't know what to expect. I've put a lot of hard work into it, but I can see I still have a lot of work to do to get my innings under my belt and get to where I need to be."
With Johnson close to a week behind the other starters, there is some question as to whether he will be able to get in enough innings and therefore might miss his first turn during the regular season. Both Johnson and D-backs manager Bob Melvin declined to speculate on that possibility.
Being patient is hard for Johnson, who is always looking ahead to the next challenge, constantly pushing himself. In 2001, when he fanned 20 batters, he said after the game that he was already focused on his next start. When he won his third straight National League Cy Young Award in 2001, he talked the following spring about being better in 2002. Surprisingly, he did just that, with a 24-5 record with a 2.32 ERA for his fourth straight Cy and fifth of his career.
"I've never really been satisfied with anything I've ever done," Johnson said.
That unequalled drive has led him to 284 career wins and a certain Hall of Fame induction, but it makes having patience with a 1 1/3-inning Spring Training outing all the more difficult. It's why Johnson joked that he was going to have to become a "Zenmeister" to get through this spring.
While he might have to accept some mediocre outings during the spring, don't expect at age 44 for him to be satisfied with anything of the sort once the regular season starts.
"People would laugh if they knew what I was thinking about this year," Johnson said with regards to his personal goals. "Obviously I may not achieve that, but if I don't have a mindset to be competitive then I would go out and I would feel I don't have to prove myself. I feel I do need to still prove myself.
"That's why I've been hard on myself. That's why in years past, I've never felt I've pitched as good as I could. That motivates me and drives me. It sounds kind of funny, but I don't think I would have ever done the things that I've done if my mindset wasn't like that. If I would have been content to go out and have a so-so year."
So is he aiming for 22 starts this year? Maybe 25?
"I've got myself down for 34 in my fantasy league," he said jokingly.
Did he pick himself first in the draft?
"Not quite that high."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.