JUPITER, Fla. — In the circus atmosphere of the Miami Marlins clubhouse, it is somehow possible to say that the return of the team's ace is in danger of being overshadowed.
Not that Josh Johnson minds. He looked around at some of his new teammates on Thursday — from Heath Bell to Jose Reyes to Mark Buehrle — and said he was glad for their arrivals in more ways than one.
"I'm not one who likes to be in the spotlight, per se," the big right-hander said after throwing 37 pitches in a bullpen session. "I like to stay low-key."
Johnson shot a quick wave in the general direction of Reyes' locker.
That's not to say that fans won't be watching Johnson and the health of his right shoulder very closely over this spring and into the regular season. Shoulder problems limited Johnson to just nine starts in 2011 and his absence from atop the rotation after May 16 was part of the reason the team slumped to a disappointing 72-90 record that placed them last in the NL East.
Johnson, however, said he is ready to go after an offseason of rest and rehab. He's scheduled to pitch the first two innings of the team's spring training opener against the Cardinals on Monday, right after he spends the weekend following Tiger Woods at a nearby PGA event.He'll be capped at 4o pitches and manager Ozzie Guillen said earlier this week that he doesn't want the 28-year-old to act like "a hero" this season. The onus of eating a lot of innings and carrying the pitching staff has been lessened somewhat by the arrival of Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, and the team might have one of the best pitching staffs around if Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez figure out a way to be consistent at the same time.
Johnson said he was taking Guillen's advice to heart so far this spring.
"[My pitches] feel really nice and smooth," Johnson said. "In past years, I've been muscling everything and trying to throw hard. [I've wanted] to try and throw hard and see my velocity, maybe get some reaction from the hitters. This year I've learned to get my timing down, which is a big part of my delivery.
"I can let [it fly] some, but for the most part I'm trying to stay nice and smooth."
If all goes right, Johnson will be throwing the first pitch at the new Marlins Ballpark on April 4 when his team and the Cardinals open the season on national television. That's the scene the Marlins probably envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $39 million deal before the 2010 season and it's one that Johnson has definitely been playing over in his head for quite some time.
A cool fact about Johnson is that he often visualizes pitching against each member of the opposing lineup the night before a start. He said he visualized pitching against Reyes for months before last year's opener against the Mets (the at-bat resulted in a weak groundout to second) and he speculated on Thursday about who might be handling leadoff duties for St. Louis this year. It's never too early for Johnson to envision himself succeeding.
"A lot of times I'll go through the whole lineup," Johnson said. "You've got plenty of time to sit in the hotel room and do it while you watch TV or before you go to bed.
"It's just something I like to do."