Grant Johnson Rested and Ready

Sometimes when a pitcher's arm is hurting, all he needs is a little rest. Grant Johnson is banking on that as he begins preparation for 2008.

Johnson appeared in 44 games this past season between Double-A Tennessee and Class-A Daytona. The right-hander and Cubs second-round selection (their first overall) in the 2004 draft logged 70 innings in 2007.

The 24-year-old was initially named to the Arizona Fall League in late August but was held out of post-season play soon afterward.

The reason: Johnson's shoulder.

"I had a little shoulder soreness toward the end of the year," Johnson stated. "I think it was a muscular-type thing. There was nothing to be concerned about, but they wanted to be on the cautious side."

Caution never hurt anyone – least of all when it comes to Cubs pitching prospects – and Johnson is hoping the added rest will pay off.

Since his shoulder didn't begin to flare up until right at the end of the season, Johnson was able to pitch free from the disabled list from start to finish.

"I've started my lifting program now and haven't really had any issues," Johnson said. "As far as I'm concerned, everything feels good now."

Likewise, Johnson feels good about his overall prognosis heading into 2008.

With the pitcher struggling as a starter a year ago in the Florida State League at Daytona, followed by a month-long stint on the DL, the Cubs made the decision to send the Notre Dame alum to the bullpen in late June, where Johnson seemed to pitch better in relief despite averaging over one hit per inning.

And though he finished with a 4.11 ERA this season, Johnson held opposing hitters to a .211 average. He began the year in Daytona for a second stint in High A ball but soon earned his first career promotion to Double-A.

With a full year pitching exclusively in relief now under his belt, Johnson says he is starting to like pitching in the bullpen more and more.

"In Daytona last year, I tried it out and had some good stuff going on," he recalled. "As far as Tennessee, I was really happy with everything. Moving up is a big step, regardless of wherever you're moving up from."

Now, Johnson is just looking for some consistency. He pieced together a string of 13 straight scoreless innings in the final month at Tennessee, but had four different outings in Double-A in which he yielded three runs or more.

When it rains, it sometimes pours with relievers.

"I was on and off," said Johnson. "I felt I was really throwing well in the last month of the season and felt I was starting to show what I could do."

His off-speed development played a big hand in that.

Historically, pitchers that aren't overpowering by nature aren't likely to go anywhere without the presence of a breaking ball. Johnson had already featured a slider for a breaking pitch but began to improve the pitch after the promotion to Tennessee.

Next, it was time to focus on a changeup.

"It was sort of like a split-change," Johnson explained of his new pitch. "I was able to throw it for strikes and screw up the hitters' rhythm. A big step for me this year was to try and find something besides fastball-slider."

It may be a "little" big step, but those and any others seem to have Grant Johnson moving up instead of down.

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