JJ hopes Marlins won't try to hold him back
Miami ace hurls 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Cardinals
JUPITER, Fla. -- After all the rehabilitation he's gone through, Marlins ace Josh Johnson is ready to expand his limits, not restrict them.
The hard-throwing right-hander hopes the organization isn't considering holding him back in any way.
"Hopefully, it never really comes to that, and I can learn a lot of stuff about myself and what works best for me in the long run," Johnson said.
The Marlins have made it clear they will closely monitor their ace.
Johnson missed most of last year due to right shoulder inflammation. His last big league start was on May 16 at the New York Mets. Due to the injury, the two-time All-Star made just nine starts and threw 60 1/3 innings.
As he rebounds, he is hoping to reach the 200-inning plateau.
"This kid, when he went down last year, the team couldn't pick it up and start playing better," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "To me, pitching is the key in baseball. If you pitch, you always have a chance to win games. This guy, I don't say our ace, because to me, everybody on the mound is our ace that night, but he is a big piece of the puzzle to help us to compete and get to where we want to get."
Guillen said Johnson will dictate to the team how much he is going to pitch.
"There is no reason if we're up by eight runs in the seventh inning, that he [can't continue] to pitch," the manager said. "It depends on how he feels. It all depends on how he feels and how he is throwing the ball."
If the Marlins are putting any restrictions on him -- either a set number of starts or innings -- they have not told him.
"Hopefully not," Johnson said.
Johnson took another step forward in his recovery on Saturday by throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
The right-hander increased his pitch count to 52 pitches, with 32 strikes. He threw 41 in his first Grapefruit League start, which also was against St. Louis. His velocity is picking up as he reached 95 mph.
"I had a lot of deep counts, which I didn't want to do, but I felt good out there," Johnson said. "That was the main thing."
Maintenance will play a big role in Johnson's recovery. He works out with weights and bands immediately after each outing, and he is getting guidance from the training staff as well as a physical therapist.
To prevent over-throwing, Johnson is scaling back his between-starts bullpen sessions.
"I'm going to be taking it easier on my bullpens," he said. "Even if I get that adrenaline rush, I'll go nice and easy, to get my arm moving. Before, sometimes I'd go out there, trying to lock in -- boom, boom, boom. Now, I'm just trying to get through it, throw some good pitches and take that into the game."
LeBlanc opening eyes in Marlins camp
JUPITER, Fla. -- Throwing strikes and getting noticed are a couple of Wade LeBlanc's objectives in Spring Training.
So far, it's working for the 27-year-old left-hander.
LeBlanc struck out five in four scoreless innings on Friday night in the Marlins' 3-0 win over the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium.
In two Grapefruit League outings, the former University of Alabama standout has logged 6 1/3 scoreless innings, yielding one hit with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Not overpowering, LeBlanc's fastball is in the 86-88-mph range, but it has movement and he is commanding both sides of the plate. He's commanding his cutter and keeping hitters off stride with his changeup. The way he's pitching has Marlins management talking.
"I love guys who do that in Spring Training, because they make our job very tough," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I love when guys go out there and perform, and open some people's eyes. He's throwing the ball very well. The most important thing is he's throwing strikes. He's at the top of his game right now.
"The last two outings, he's the best one to throw the ball for us, so far. He's very consistent."
The Marlins acquired LeBlanc from the Padres in November for John Baker.
Because he has an option year remaining, the Marlins can either keep LeBlanc on their Opening Day roster or send him to Triple-A New Orleans.
Miami's rotation, barring injury, is pretty much set with Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez.
If there is no spot for LeBlanc in the starting five, the lefty is a candidate to be a long reliever.
"I'm just getting everything tuned up and ready to go," LeBlanc said. "If you can string together a couple of good outings, and hopefully make the decision hard on them, that's always a plus. Either way, regardless of where I start the season, I've got to use this like a springboard, I guess."
As well as LeBlanc is throwing right now, the process is still early. But clearly the lefty is making an early case to break with the ballclub when the season gets going on April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.
"We'll figure it out," Guillen said. "Right now, we're talking about it. It's too early. In a couple of weeks we'll know where we are, and what we do."
Bell working to fine-tune his mechanics
JUPITER, Fla. -- The better Heath Bell's mechanics are, the harder he throws.
Velocity, he maintains, is a product of his delivery being just right.
"I just build up strength through my mechanics," the Marlins closer said. "Like right now, you're trying not to overdo anything. You're trying to get ready for the season."
So if Bell is topping out at 90 or 91 mph right now, he's not too concerned. The more fine-tuned he is, the higher his velocity will be.
Clear mechanics will eventually get his fastball up in the 95-mph range by Opening Day, which is April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.
"If my mechanics are fundamentally sound, I can throw hard," Bell said. "If not, I'm not going to be able to. I'm not a guy who was blessed with a lightning bolt for an arm. I'm a guy with a work ethic and never giving up. I grind, keep pushing myself."
Bell threw a scoreless inning on Saturday against the Cardinals, striking out two in the fourth inning. He allowed one hit.
"I build it up slowly and slowly," Bell said of his fastball. "I'm trying to build up slowly so I don't break down right away."
Bell uses his entire body to generate velocity.
A few years ago, he was a lean 205 pounds, but his fastball was at 90 mph.
He's comfortable pitching in the 245-260-pound range. At that weight, his fastball has consistently been in the mid-90s.
"It's knowing your mechanics and really using all of my body weight, because I really use all of my body weight," he said.