Johnson shines in winning first LA start
Righty tosses six scoreless innings; Park, Broxton seal victory
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers spent $36 million over the winter on free-agent pitchers from Japan.
Hiroki Kuroda got $35.3 million of it. He's already thrown some masterpieces this year, but was last seen running late-night wind sprints to purge the thought of a 13.11 ERA since the All-Star break.
The remaining loose change secured the services of Jason Johnson after an injury-marred season with Seibu, and the Dodgers got more than their money's worth Tuesday night as the 34-year-old outdueled Matt Cain with six scoreless innings to beat the Giants, 2-0, the third Dodgers shutout in the last four games.
The Dodgers did this with a substitute starting pitcher, a substitute reliever (Jonathan Broxton, now 5-for-5 in saves since Takashi Saito went out), a substitute catcher (Danny Ardoin giving Russell Martin a break so Martin can catch all four games against Arizona later this week), even a sub shortstop (Angel Berroa filling in for the injured Nomar Garciaparra, who was filling in for the injured Rafael Furcal).
This was Johnson's 56th Major League victory but his first since May 28, 2006, the 26-month gap turning into a journeyman ballplayer's travelogue with stops in Louisville, Pawtucket, Wilmington, Boston, Cincinnati, Tokyo and, of course, Las Vegas.
That's where Johnson opened the 2008 season after finding no room on the Dodgers' Major League pitching staff. His contract gave him two dates when he could leave the organization if he wasn't in The Show. The first date was June 1, the other is Thursday.
As June 1 approached, Johnson was dominating Pacific Coast League hitters. But the Dodgers had just released Esteban Loaiza and replaced him with 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, who leaped past Johnson right into a Major League rotation, after Eric Stults had done the same thing earlier in June.
How close did Johnson come to opting out?
"It was close, really close," the Santa Barbara native said Tuesday night, after scattering five hits and striking out three, lowering his three-game ERA to 1.38.
"But I always wanted to pitch in L.A. I was just hoping to get the chance. I knew I had an out. I knew other guys were getting called up because they were on the 40-man roster [actually, Kershaw wasn't]. None of that bothered me. I decided to stay because I thought I'd be in L.A. sometime this year."
It wasn't until Saito blew out his elbow July 12 that Johnson got the promotion to his eighth Major League franchise. While with Las Vegas, his salary was $72,000. His Major League split is $850,000. He knows he's probably a placeholder for Brad Penny, meaning he'll likely get one more start Sunday against the Diamondbacks before Penny returns from the disabled list. After that, who knows?
"Whatever happens, happens," he said.
Johnson, a diabetic, pitches with an insulin pump, so he knows about overcoming hurdles to success. He had to pitch out of several jams and praised his defense, which turned a pair of double plays and included a heads-up backup by Berroa, who was in the right place to save a wild throw from Ardoin and nail Randy Winn as he was trying to go from first to third on a wild pitch and wild throw.
The Dodgers bullpen again was lights-out. After following Kuroda with 5 1/3 hitless innings Monday night, Chan Ho Park and Broxton added three more hitless innings in this game.
The only run the Dodgers needed scored in what turned into a controversial two-run sixth inning, which Matt Kemp led off with a single. Kemp, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 16 games, stole second and was advanced to third on a key groundout to the right side by Andre Ethier in a 10-pitch at-bat. After Jeff Kent lined out, James Loney lined an RBI single to left.
Casey Blake followed by pulling a soft liner that landed fair and was chased down in foul ground by San Francisco left fielder Fred Lewis. The ball deflected off Lewis' glove onto the pad covering the cement wall separating the box seats from the field. Lewis reached up and grabbed the ball just as it was about to drop into the box seats, then threw to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who relayed home in time for catcher Bengie Molina to tag out Loney.
But third-base umpire Angel Campos came running into the infield, convening an umpires meeting that resulted in crew chief Greg Gibson ruling Loney safe at home and awarding Blake third base. According to manager Joe Torre, when the ball rolled off the pad, it was out of play and the runners were awarded an extra base.
Gibson declined a postgame request from MLB.com to explain his ruling.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.