Josh Johnson will return to the mound for the first time since a right arm injury halted his impressive rookie season when the Florida Marlins open a three-game interleague set with the struggling Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
Johnson, 23, has not pitched in the majors since Sept. 12, 2006, when he scattered three hits in five scoreless innings before exiting with a stiff biceps muscle as the Marlins (33-37) went on to lose 6-4 to the New York Mets.
The injury became a nerve problem that ended his surprising season, during which he went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 31 games - 24 starts - to finish fourth in the NL rookie of the year balloting.
“It can’t come soon enough,” Johnson told the team’s official Web site about his first start of the season. “Physically, I feel great, my whole body feels good.
“This feels exactly like opening day last year. It’s been tough. It’s been real tough. I spent, like, nine days in Carolina. It’s something you had to do to move on.”
His road back to the Marlins included three minor league rehabilitation starts, one with Class-A Jupiter and two with Triple-A Carolina, where he allowed only three runs in 15 1-3 innings with 16 strikeouts and five walks.
Johnson, who spent the first month of 2006 in the bullpen, is expected to last up to six innings or throw as many as 90-100 pitches on Monday, replacing veteran Byung-Hyun Kim in the rotation. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four interleague starts, and will face Chicago (28-37) for the first time.
Florida lost for the fourth time in five contests with a 5-4 defeat at Kansas City on Sunday.
The White Sox are playing worse, hitting a major league-worst .233 this season, and entering the series as losers of 17 of 21 games.
Chicago ended a six-game road trip with only one victory after an 8-7 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“I’m really disappointed in this road trip, a horrible road trip,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “The way we played the last seven days, good teams don’t play that way.
“When we score runs, we don’t pitch. When we pitch, we don’t score runs. Everything’s a mess.”
Guillen hopes Jose Contreras (4-7, 4.64) can help solve the problems by rebounding from his worst performance since opening day.
The right-hander was tagged for seven runs and seven hits before being pulled after 3 1-3 innings of a 7-3 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday. It was his shortest start since lasting an inning of a season-opening 12-5 loss to Cleveland on April 2 after surrendering eight runs and seven hits.
“I was missing location and had no velocity,” Contreras said through a translator. “The split and slider were OK, but I didn’t have a fastball. I struggled.”
Contreras will try to rebound in his first regular-season start against Florida. He faced the Marlins as a member of the New York Yankees during the 2003 World Series, allowing four runs over 6 1-3 innings of relief in four appearances.
The Marlins took two of three from the White Sox from June 15-17, 2004, in the only series between the clubs.