Big Unit approves of Giants' yard
Johnson enjoys first outing at new home ballpark
SAN FRANCISCO -- Randy Johnson's Giants career at AT&T Park was only five innings old after Friday night's exhibition against the Oakland A's, but that was enough for him to deliver an opinion about his new baseball home."I'm already liking this ballpark," he said.
Johnson was referring to the second inning, when Nomar Garciaparra doubled off the left-field wall and Jack Cust flied out to deep left. Both drives, Johnson reasoned, would have been home runs at Chase Field, his previous home yard with the Arizona Diamondbacks."I did see the benefits of pitching in this ballpark," he said. "... You pitch a night game here, in a little bit bigger ballpark, it's a little more pitcher-friendly. So instead of giving up a home run, I give up a base hit and I can deal with that." The Giants appreciated how Johnson dealt with this spring. The 45-year-old recorded a 2.20 ERA in five appearances and, despite missing an outing with biceps tendinitis, sufficiently prepared himself for the role of San Francisco's No. 2 starter. Johnson continued his progress by allowing one run and four hits in five innings against the A's, who outlasted the Giants in 10 innings, 2-1. The left-hander no longer possesses the endurance he displayed while winning five Cy Young Awards between 1995 and 2002, but the Giants will be satisfied if he can last around six innings per start. His effort against the A's indicated to manager Bruce Bochy that he can meet this standard. "We got him right where we want him as far as innings and pitches," Bochy said. Johnson's fastball reached a high of 93 mph on AT&T Park's velocity readings, significantly below the 97-98 mph range he maintained during his peak. He has accepted this erosion calmly. "Go ask Nolan Ryan what he was throwing when he was 46 years old," said Johnson, who has logged 4,622 2/3 innings in his professional career. "It's no disrespect to him -- we're pretty good friends -- but when you're 46 years old, you just don't throw that hard anymore. I have almost 5,000 innings? 4,500 innings? For me, it's obviously more of a challenge now to get hitters out, but when I'm done at least I'll be able to look back and say it was a lot of fun when I had 98. But it was more of a challenge when I was throwing 91, 93. "I'm the majority now. I'm not the minority anymore." Johnson complemented his fastball with a slider and split-fingered fastball to fend off the A's. In fact, he said that he recorded three of his four strikeouts with his slider. Johnson retired eight of the last nine hitters he faced, prompting him to observe that his effectiveness increased as the game elapsed. "My next start I need to be good right from the get-go," Johnson said, referring to his Wednesday outing against Milwaukee. "Everything will be for real then. The Milwaukee Brewers have a pretty good lineup. I really won't be able to afford too many mistakes with a lineup like that." But to Johnson, he's ahead of his pace of recent years, because he has his health. He spent his previous two Spring Trainings overcoming back surgeries. "You can pick up the paper every day and see a 25-year-old who's on the disabled list," he said. "Considering everything, I feel pretty good. It was a good Spring Training and one that I'll remember."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.