Josh Johnson Showing Ace Form With Toronto Blue Jays In Spring

By Thom Tsang
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Johnson would like you know that he’s just fine.

No, really, he knows that he’s been through a disappointing 2012 that saw his ERA balloon to 3.81, and that he’s lost a little bit of velocity ever since running into trouble with his shoulder in 2011.

But he’s doing a-okay, having come off nearly 200 innings pitched last season, and has even starting to learn to pitch with less speed on his pitches.

Don’t believe him? Well, don’t just take his words for it. The 29-year old righty welcomes you to use  his results with the Toronto Blue Jays thus far in spring to alleviate those concerns.

The former Miami Marlins ace has looked exactly like that — an ace — in his Grapefruit League outings so far. Over 7.2 innings pitched, the Blue Jays No. 4 (!) pitcher going into 2013 has given up just a single run on a solo home run, which allowing two hits total. He hasn’t walked anybody, and he’s struck out eight batters.

If this is supposed to be a pitcher coming in with question marks about his effectiveness, velocity and health, Johnson certainly hasn’t looked like it. Just ask the Atlanta Braves, who the righty dominated on Friday with a perfect 3.2 inning outing with five strikeouts.

Even if you don’t put much stock in spring numbers, the fact that Johnson hasn’t issued a single walk yet is clearly a sign that he’s commanding his stuff well. After a couple of fantastic seasons in 2009 and 2010 (totaling 12.0 fWAR, good for ninth among MLB starters), Johnson has seen his control slip a bit along with his shoulder health, seeing his 2.43 BB/9 from the two years trend up to 3.04 from 2011 to 2012.

That’s ‘s a number that he’ll want to bring down in order to be successful this year, especially considering that he’s going to be working less off his fastball as a result of it losing a couple of ticks over the years.

It’s a process that began last year, when Johnson’s heater averaged at 92.8 mph (compared to a 95 career-high in 2009). He threw his fastball under 60 percent for the first time in his career, mixing it in at 55.1 percent, and put an increased focus on his curveball (15.7 percent usage), which he only introduced in 2011 (7.8 percent).

He’s been working on the pitch going into the spring, and those numbers might continue to sway towards his new put-away weapon in 2013.

Now having gone through a year of honing it, Johnson’s arsenal is looking more dangerous than ever, and he’s showing the Blue Jays that “No. 4” is really more a formality than an actual label for what he brings to the team’s starting rotation in 2013.

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