For the past year, Padres starting pitcher Josh Johnson has been measuring his life by milestones, each one methodically inching him closer to a full recovery from his second Tommy John injury in seven years.
Tuesday, the milestone was the mound as Johnson threw his first simulated game since his most recent surgery in April of last year.
“Timing is still a little bit off, that’s always a work in progress,” Johnson said afterward, adding that health-wise, he “felt pretty good.”
At the end of each of the two twenty-pitch “innings” he completed, Johnson walked off the mound to applause from teammates, coaches and front office executives – including general manager A.J. Preller — who had gathered to watch this significant step in his recovery.
“It was awesome to see that,” Johnson said. “It shows I’m getting pretty close. Hopefully, I’m right around the corner.”
Johnson threw all of his pitches — (fastball, slider, change-up) — to a mix of Padres hitters Tuesday, and barring any obstacle, will head to Arizona after the weekend to throw another simulated game before starting a rehab stint with one of the team’s Minor League affiliates, according to manager Bud Black.
“He’s got to go through the schedule that a healthy starting pitcher goes through in spring training,” Black said. “The gradual buildup of innings and pitch count. He still needs to cross those bridges.”
Johnson, a two-time All Star, said he made it a point to be around his teammates as much as possible during his recovery, watching bullpens thrown by his battery mates and spending much of last season letting young pitchers “pick his brain.”
“I’ve been in the spot [after an injury] where they just kind of ship you off and you’re never heard from again, that type of thing, and that’s no fun at all,” said Johnson, who also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007. “As soon as it happened [this time], I said I’m going to do whatever I can to help these guys.
“It was very therapeutic for me. It definitely helped it to go a lot faster. Just being in the dugout, that was huge.”
Added teammate and fellow starting pitcher Ian Kennedy: “It’s nice to have him around. He’s such a good guy.
“I don’t think he’s missed a bullpen all year.”
(video by Marty Caswell)