Johnson will look to post his third win in as many starts when the Yankees continue their four-game series with the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The 41-year-old left-hander is coming off Thursday’s stellar outing. He reached double digits in strikeouts for the first time this year and threw a five-hitter, leading New York to a 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh that completed a three-game sweep.
Johnson was also more animated on the mound than he had been previously this season.
“We’re starting to see some of the staredowns,” catcher John Flaherty said.
Johnson has allowed one run and just nine hits with no walks and 18 strikeouts over his last 16 innings in posting a pair of wins. The Big Unit had been 1-3 with a 4.72 ERA in his previous four starts, allowing 35 hits, including five home runs, in 26 2-3 innings.
“Most of you guys have written my eulogy last month,” Johnson said. “I’m not done. I’ve got a lot of fire in me.”
On Thursday, Johnson threw his first 13 pitches for strikes and 20 of his opening 21. He went to 0-2 counts on 10 of his first 18 batters and, with the aid of his sharpest slider of the season, finished with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
“Every time he goes out there and shows that kind of stuff he showed early on, everybody thinks a no-hitter,” Yankees manager Joe Torre.
Johnson has made it clear any thoughts of his demise have been premature.
“At times I felt really good with my mechanics in April. In May, I felt good at times,” Johnson said. “Things just get blown out of proportion here. You give up a couple of runs and you lose 3-1 or something, the world’s coming to an end.”
The Yankees will need another stellar effort from Johnson following Monday’s 5-4 loss in the series opener. The Devil Rays raced out to a five-run lead before holding on and ending their three-game slide and New York’s six-game win streak.
Tampa Bay improved to 5-2 against the Yankees, who have never lost a season series to the Devil Rays. Since winning three of four from New York in early May, the Devil Rays had gone 12-28, losing 16 of their last 20 games.
The Devil Rays are 2-1 at Yankee Stadium this year and 4-27 in all other road games.