The “Big Unit” will make his season debut for the Diamondbacks on Monday night when they start a three-game road series against the San Francisco Giants.
Arizona (9-3) had an eight-game winning streak snapped with Sunday’s 13-5 loss to Colorado, but is looking forward to seeing how Johnson fares in his first start since June 28. The left-hander was 4-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 10 starts last season in the first year of his second stint with the Diamondbacks before back problems sidelined him for the final three months.
The five-time Cy Young Award winner is coming off his second back operation in less than a year. The 44-year-old left-hander, who needs 16 wins to reach 300, made his final rehab start last Tuesday for Triple-A Tucson.
Pitching against Salt Lake City, Johnson allowed three runs and three hits. He walked one, had two wild pitches and threw 85 pitches, 58 for strikes.
“The more you throw the better you start feeling,” said Johnson, who retired his last eight hitters. “I knew I had to pitch better. There were a lot less mistakes. There were mistakes still made like the three hits. All of them were mistake pitches and that’s going to happen in the course of a real game.”
Arizona manager Bob Melvin said Johnson will not be on a pitch count. Johnson has not pitched at AT&T Park since 2004, and he’s 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in five starts there.
He faced the Giants twice at home last season, and was 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA.
There will be some unfamiliar faces in the Giants’ lineup to Johnson, including John Bowker. The right fielder became the first San Francisco player to homer in his first two games with a two-run shot on Sunday in a 7-4 win over St. Louis.
Bowker went 2-for-4 and drove in four runs one day after going 2-for-3 and driving in three in his major-league debut. He is two RBIs behind Bengie Molina for the team lead.
“The kid’s been a real shot in the arm for us,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “He came through again today. It’s great to have a kid come out here and do what he’s doing. We needed some power and he’s provided that the last couple of days.”
The Giants expect to have Aaron Rowand back in the lineup after the outfielder sat out Sunday due to sore ribs. Rowand is 4-for-13 (.308) with five strikeouts against Johnson.
Jonathan Sanchez (0-1, 6.30) makes his third start for San Francisco. After he was rocked for seven runs in his first outing, he was excellent in his first home outing of 2008, allowing three hits over six-plus innings of a 1-0 win over San Diego on Wednesday.
“I didn’t change anything,” he said. “I was getting ahead of the hitters. I just went out there relaxed and did my best.”
The left-hander has lost all three of his career starts against Arizona, posting an 8.10 ERA in those games. Diamondbacks first baseman Conor Jackson is 4-for-5 against him.
Arizona went 10-8 against San Francisco in 2007, but just 3-6 at AT&T Park.