Johnston healthy, looking to return to form

Peoria, AZ- Mike Johnston is on the road to recovery – hoping to regain the plus fastball that earned him trips to the major leagues with Pittsburgh in 2004 and 2005. After missing all of 2007, Johnston is working towards opening eyes in the San Diego Padres system with a fastball that once clocked in consistently in the mid-90s.

With 25 games of major league experience under his wing, Johnston, a left-hander, is looking to return to form. But the hard work has just begun, as he regains the feel for his mechanics, off-speed pitches and a fastball that hit the mid-90s.

You missed the entire 2007 season with injury – how has the mental process been for you in coming back?

Mike Johnston: You are not able to do something you love. You are on the sidelines for 16 months as all of your buddies get to go out there and play. You have to sit back, put your work in, and do all your rehab. It is tough. It is tough sitting on the sidelines and watching.

What can you learn from sitting on the sidelines?

Mike Johnston: Well, you get to watch a lot of baseball since you aren't playing. You aren't getting geeked up and ready to play so you can sit back and watch other players – watch how they approach the game, how they workout, how they work to certain batters, how they work the counts.

I watched the lefties that have the kind of stuff I have to see how they approach the game – pick up as much as you can.

You have major league experience with Pittsburgh – how close are you to being that pitcher?

Mike Johnston: I would say about 90 percent right now. My arm is starting to feel good. But getting that mound presence, the mechanics back, and hitting your spots.

I had a couple of rough outings this spring but I feel like it is a step in the right direction. My off-speed is there but my fastball location is not where it needs to be. My velocity is slowly coming back. It is going to click. When it does, I won't be too far off.

There is a difference between feeling healthy and believing in it and having confidence in each pitch.

Mike Johnston: Absolutely. You want to make sure you go out there and let the ball go. You don't want to hold anything back. You don't want to pitch hurt.

Has there been that tentativeness? Perhaps on the breaking balls?

Mike Johnston: I think so. I am usually a guy that throws pretty hard and I don't think I am rearing back and letting it go like I need to be. It is a little tender right now and that is just from throwing every day from not throwing at all for about 10 months. Nothing going to full blast – I think I am going to build my arm strength and it will come and I won't be afraid to let it go.

I know we don't have any guns out here but can you feel what that velocity is at right now?

Mike Johnston: I know when I get up 1-2 and go to blow someone away, they are hitting the ball to the warning track when that is usually that is game over. It just has to get back to that and maybe it is location also. Once I get my mechanics down and the location, everything will all come around.

What will be a successful 2008 season for Mike Johnston?

Mike Johnston: I think staying healthy, getting a lot of innings in, pitching well wherever I go. Make sure I go out there, stay healthy, produce good numbers and try and open some eyes – let these guys see I am healthy again and ready to pitch – ready to get back to the big leagues.

Would it be a disappointment if you ended up back in Double-A?

Mike Johnston: I just want to get my innings in. I don't think it matters where you start after getting injured. You want to build your innings up and let them see what they used to see. The numbers will take care of themselves. You will move when you need to be moved or sit there and pitch there.

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