Fresh off being swept out of Pac Bell Park by the NL West leaders, the Diamondbacks will turn to one of their aces when they open a weekend series against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
Out since having knee surgery on May 1, Johnson returned Sunday against San Diego. The Big Unit said he exceeded his expectations by going six innings and throwing 100 pitches, but lost 3-2.
“I was a little erratic, but for the most part I felt like I kept us in the ballgame,” said Johnson, who is 225-109 in his 18-year career. “Everything feels great.”
The 39-year-old left-hander wasn’t his usual dominant self on the scorecard as he struck out just six, but he was pleased with his command and stamina.
“I didn’t strike out 15,” Johnson said. “I struck out a few batters and my fastball was up there when I needed it to be and my slider was effective.”
The Diamondbacks could have used an effective slider or two on Thursday as they fell to the San Francisco Giants 3-2 on a walk-off home run by Barry Bonds in the ninth inning. The loss ended a nightmarish four-game sweep and dropped the Diamondbacks, losers of six straight overall, 11 games out in the NL West.
Johnson could fare well against the light-hitting Dodgers. Los Angeles earned a split of its four-game series with Colorado with a 1-0, 11-inning win on Thursday. Shawn Green drove in Alex Cora with the winning hit as the Dodgers moved within a half-game of the Diamondbacks for second place.
“It felt great. It was definitely needed today—not only for the team, but for myself,” said Green, whose 50 RBIs are the most on a team that has scored the second-fewest runs in the majors. “It’s been a long time coming, but I’m starting to have better at-bats.”
STANDINGS: Dodgers - 3rd place, 11 1/2 GB, NL West. Diamondbacks - 2nd place, 11 GB, NL West.
DODGERS PROBABLE STARTER: Odalis Perez (6-8, 4.65 ERA). Perez had his modest two-start winning streak snapped in his last outing, allowing seven earned runs and six hits, including four home runs, over 3 2-3 innings in a 10-7 loss to St. Louis on Sunday. The left-hander is 3-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 10 career appearances, including nine starts, against Arizona. He beat the Diamondbacks on July 5, permitting just three hits over eight brilliant innings in a 2-0 win. Perez didn’t issue a walk and struck out five.
DIAMONDBACKS PROBABLE STARTER: Johnson (1-3, 5.83 ERA). Johnson is 6-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 16 career starts against Los Angeles. He has struck out 133 Dodgers in 115 2-3 innings.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Dodgers - Paul Lo Duca, .305 avg.; Jeromy Burnitz, 20 HRs and 51 RBIs; Green, 54 runs; Dave Roberts, 24 SBs. Diamondbacks - Shea Hillenbrand, .357 avg.; Luis Gonzalez, 18 HRs, 68 RBIs and 69 runs; Steve Finley and David Dellucci, 8 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Dodgers, 5-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Dodgers - The Dodgers have scored nine runs during RHP Kevin Brown’s five-game winless streak. His longest drought in the majors was in 1995, when he went 0-6 in a span of 12 starts with Baltimore. … The Dodgers reached the 2 million mark in home attendance for the 31st straight season. … Current Diamondbacks are batting just .196 (10-for-51) against LHP Perez. Diamondbacks - Arizona is batting .331 with men in scoring position in its 54 wins, but just .176 in those situations in its 48 losses. … OF Danny Bautista singled in the sixth Thursday for his 500th career hit. … 2B Junior Spivey’s tiebreaking double in the eighth inning ended an 0-for-10 drought.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Dodgers - 24-23 on the road; Diamondbacks - 28-21 at home.
INJURIES: Dodgers - C Todd Hundley (back), 15-day DL; INF Ron Coomer (dizziness), 15-day DL; 1B Fred McGriff (abductor), 15-day DL; OF Brian Jordan (knee), 15-day DL; OF Roberts (hamstring), 15-day DL; LHP Troy Brohawn (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Darren Dreifort (knee), 60-day DL; LHP Derek Thompson (elbow), 60-day DL. Diamondbacks - RHP Mike Koplove (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Bret Prinz (groin), 60-day DL.