Rett Johnson: He's Back

Jonathan Bianchet caught up with right-hander Rett Johnson just after his first appearance in an official baseball game since the end of last season. Check out what the 25-year-old had to say about his return to the game.

Entering spring training, pitcher Rett Johnson was pegged as one of the top prospects within the Seattle Mariners organization.

The big country right-hander expected to possibly have a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation, and an even better chance to make the big leagues in the bullpen.

Johnson had proven all he had to in the minor leagues, breezing through the system with a record of 40-20 and a 2.95 earned run average in four seasons in the minors. From 2002 to the end of 2003, he jumped from Single-A San Bernardino to Double-A San Antonioand on to Triple-A Tacoma. In those two years, Johnson baffled hitters for 22 wins against just eight defeats.

But this year in spring training, the man from Conway, South Carolina left the team, only to return days later. Still, once the season started Johnson remained in Arizona to work out in extended spring training. Months passed and the 25-year-old right-hander had all but fallen off the face of the earth, not appearing in any games within the organization.

While his counterparts Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte were called up to pitch for Seattle, Johnson still had not thrown a pitch from the mound for any of the six Mariner affiliates.

Chances are, that if Johnson had not made the big league club when camp broke, he would have been among the first wave of Mariner minor leaguers to make their debut in the big leagues this season.

But while Johnson's personal reasons continue to be a mystery, he is finally back toeing the rubber and ready to get back to form as a member of the Inland Empire 66ers.

On Tuesday night, the Mariners' preseason No. 7 prospect, as voted by Baseball America, made his 2004 debut on the same San Bernardino mound where he began his quick ascent up the farm system.

Johnson pitched one inning. That one inning might have been one of the hardest he has ever had to pitch.

"I have been on the mound before," said Johnson. "But it was a little different because it has almost been a year since I pitched on the mound, besides spring training."

In that inning, Johnson walked one and struck out one, without allowing a run to cross home plate.

"I was excited and anxious," said the right-hander. "It felt good to get back out and actually be with a team and watch a game."

For Johnson, who worked out every day while he was away and pitched in several simulated games in Peoria, the goal is to get back to where he was when the 2003 season concluded.

"I need to get back," said Johnson. "That is the goal to get back where I was so I have a chance at a spot in the big leagues. I'm hoping soon I'll regain my form. A few more innings and I should begin to be coming around."

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