Big Unit in the Big Leagues This Week?

Big Unit in the Big Leagues This Week?

Although the Diamondbacks have been suggesting for several days that left-hander Randy Johnson likely would be activated from the disabled list on April 19, the Big Unit said he's not so sure that's accurate. His bullpen session on Monday will be the determining factor.

"I've had probably the most makeshift spring training you could possibly have," Johnson said. "Everybody says that I'm targeted to come back on the 19th. Don't put that in stone."

After pitching Friday for Class AAA Tucson in what is supposed to be the final rehab outing in his recovery from October back surgery, Johnson was expected to join the Diamondbacks and make a start next week at San Diego.

He still might. But he may feel he needs another rehab start to get more comfortable and work on his velocity.  Then again, it could just be Johnson's way of saying, "Look, I might not be 100 percent when I'm activated, so don't expect me to be Superman right off the bat."

Friday's outing was Johnson's fifth appearance in a game situation and his most recent after throwing 73 pitches during a six-inning start for Class A Visalia. He's actually thrown 21 innings overall, although four of those came in a simulated game in Tucson.

"I've only thrown 11 innings competitively," he said. "We'll see what happens. We'll see how I feel. I never picked any days that I was hoping I'd be back by. I realized after my last game (with Visalia) that I wasn't ready (to pitch in the majors). I'm looking forward to my next start, and we'll go from there. Hopefully I'll be healthy, happy and effective."

"It's still spring training for me," Johnson, who struck out three batters, said after allowing three runs, two earned, along with eight hits through six innings. "And it will be even for my next start, wherever that will be."

The veteran left-hander, taking it slow but steady since undergoing October back surgery to repair a herniated disk, was expected to join Arizona's rotation next week in San Diego and settle in behind ace Brandon Webb in the No.2 spot. However, Johnson has made it clear in recent days he isn't sure if he needs another start in the minors.

Friday's outing, played before a sellout crowd of 12,113 at Tucson Electric Park in the Sidewinders' home opener, apparently didn't solve enough doubts. He allowed a first-inning, solo home run to Ryan Spilborghs of Colorado Springs (the Rockies' Triple-A team), then cruised through four shutout innings before running into problems in the sixth, in which he allowed two runs and four singles during a 30-pitch inning. His velocity wasn't earth-shaking as he regularly hit 90 mph and reached 92 mph on eight pitches.

"I felt like I was -- I don't know if I should say this. ... I felt like at times I was in the movie Bull Durham. Everything was just so surreal out there. Maybe that's why I couldn't get locked in."

He met with Diamondbacks executives on Saturday to discuss his next step, whether it be another start for Tucson or joining the Diamondbacks in San Diego for a start sometime next week.  A bullpen session on Monday will be the determining factor.

"I guess I'm fairly pleased with how I threw," he said. "I'm still kind of searching for a few things, but maybe I'll find it when I get up to Arizona."

 

--RHP Micah Owings helped his case to remain in the rotation when LHP Randy Johnson is activated from the disabled list by shutting out the Reds for six innings Wednesday before allowing two runs in the seventh. Manager Bob Melvin was noncommittal, however, even though he's praised the rookie's performance under pressure. "All that plays into it," Melvin said. "No matter what we do, it'll be a difficult decision. If you're having difficult decisions, it means you have a lot of guys that deserve to be here, and if that's the case, we'd rather have it that way."

--RHP Dustin Nippert has pitched just two innings of relief this season as the club's long man out of the bullpen. The rookie, who hasn't pitched in relief since 2002, could be sent to Class AAA Tucson to make room on the roster for LHP Randy Johnson, who is close to being activated from the disabled list.

"We like him. We think he can help us," manager Bob Melvin said of Nippert. "We just haven't gotten into that scenario that's gotten him into a lot of games yet."

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