When the Arizona Diamondbacks traded for Randy Johnson in January 2007 everyone wondered what they were thinking. Here was a pitcher who had health issues and questionable success while in New York and was characterized as a surly personality that was not a good clubhouse presence. I happened to be in the minority on that. I felt like Randy had reached a point in his career that he valued family and would be very beneficial in the clubhouse offering to help some of the young players as they began their big league careers. Whenever I mentioned my opinion it was usually met with skepticism and laughter. I felt somewhat vindicated when Randy found success after starting the season on the disabled list. That triumph was short lived when Johnson’s season ended with another surgery to repair his ailing back.
At Randy’s age I would not have blamed him if he had called it a career and retired. Instead he set out to prove all of his critics wrong by rehabilitating from surgery. Now here we are some nine months later and Randy is proclaiming that he is pain free for the first time in several years. The Arizona Diamondbacks coaches and training staff have been closely monitoring Johnson’s every move this spring to try and minimize any set-backs he could have. The gentle care can only go for so long before Randy finally has to go into a game situation to see if the surgical repaired back is capable of withstanding the rigors of a long baseball season. Several milestones have been crossed but the one today is perhaps the biggest. For the first time Randy Johnson will throw in a Spring Training game in Tucson against the National League Champion Colorado Rockies. Johnson has been placed on a closely monitored pitch count and the Diamondbacks petitioned the Rockies to use the Designated Hitter to minimize the stress to Randy’s back. The first inning of work went well for Johnson. He gave up a double to the much hated “great Troy Tulowitzki” but retired Todd Helton to end the inning. In his second inning of work Randy seemed slightly less aggressive and as a result pitched behind in the count giving up a home run to Chris Iannetta with two runners on base. The box score would show Johnson lasting only 1.1 innings giving up 4 hits and 3 runs for a 20.25 ERA. On the surface this may look like a poor outing but within the Diamondbacks it was looked at very favorably. This is the first step back for the Big Unit and if he continues to progress like he has this spring, National League opponents are not going to be comfortable facing the Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitching.