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Johnson working to be ready by Spring Training

Johnson working to be ready by Spring Training

Johnson working to be ready by Spring Training
MIAMI -- Time simply ran out on Josh Johnson at the end of the 2011 season.

Sidelined with right shoulder inflammation, the Marlins' ace believes if the season lasted one more week, he would have returned.

"Yeah, I think so," Johnson said.

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The calendar, though, worked against him. The regular season concluded on Sept. 28, leaving Johnson to seek alternative pitching options.

So rather than see game action with the Marlins, Johnson faced hitters during a live batting-practice session on a back field at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

The session had some good and bad news.

Johnson's shoulder felt fine, and the ball was coming out of his hand with authority. On the flip side, the right-hander had a slight setback, as he developed a minor blister on his right middle finger.

The iritation was a small inconvenience. It did cause the throwing session to end, but Johnson says he could have managed it and pitched through it if he were getting ready for a regular start. Since he wasn't, though, there was no reason to keep throwing.

This past week, Johnson was back in South Florida, attending a number of team functions, including the renaming ceremony of the franchise to the Miami Marlins on Friday. And on Saturday, he was joined by teammate Ricky Nolasco at Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise, Fla., interacting with fans.

Johnson will spend the offseason at his home in Las Vegas, where he is close to beginning a throwing program. He says he will get going in about two weeks. One of his throwing partners will be Marlins reliever Mike Dunn, who also lives in the Vegas area.

Physically, Johnson is ready to go, and he is expected to be at full strength for the start of Spring Training.

"The shoulder feels great," Johnson said. "I haven't felt anything in a long time."

In past years, Johnson's offseason throwing program would start off with about two weeks of long tossing. To keep building up arm strength, he is changing his routine by long tossing over a longer stretch.

"I probably will do a whole month or five weeks of just long tossing," he said. "Throwing every day, long toss. I think that might actually help."

Johnson is targeting being on the mound in mid-January. The Marlins are slated to get Spring Training going in Jupiter on Feb. 18, and the Miami right-hander hopes to start throwing bullpen sessions around Jan. 18.

Before his injury, Johnson was off to a fast start in 2011. The two-time All-Star was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in nine starts.

But he felt shoulder tightness on May 16 while facing the Mets at Citi Field. Five days later, he was placed on the disabled list, and then missed the remainder of the season.

An imposing 6-foot-7, 250-pounder, Johnson said part of his shoulder troubles were caused by his posture. Being so tall, he tends to hunch over, which over a long period of time added stress in his shoulder.

"Posture is huge," Johnson said. "Mechanics, I don't see any reason to change anything as long as I keep my posture. I tend to lean over, hunch over whenever I'm pitching."

Getting Johnson healthy is important for the Marlins, because they need their All-Star right-hander on the mound if they hope to contend.

Upgrading the rotation is an offseason priority for Miami.

Javier Vazquez, who led the team in wins this past season, is leaning towards retirement. Already the team is surveying the market for proven starters.

Last week, left-hander Mark Buehrle met with team officials and took a tour of the new ballpark in Miami.

After years of being financially strapped, the Marlins are actively seeking high-priced free agents.

"It's really exciting," Johnson said. "It's something I've never been a part of in my time with the Marlins. It's something new. Something different and something to look forward to."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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