The tough, gunning right hander breezes through his delivery, bringing his throwing hand out of his glove ever so slightly as he prepares to go through. The leg, then the body, then the arm, all flying through in a flash of teal, gray, and black. The arm comes over the top and a blur followed by a pop determines another batter's fate.
Welcome to Josh Johnson's world.
The 25-year-old hurler blew away the Majors in 2006, a coming of age for the perennially contending Marlins squad. Then came 2007, arm problems, and bad pitching. Johnson would finish 0-3 that year, letting up a 7.47 ERA.
After Tommy John surgery rejuvenated the youngster's career, Johnson strung together 22 wins and just 6 losses over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. A Cy Young caliber pitcher, Johnson figures to be the ace of the Marlins squad for years to come. Well, by default that is.
In 2009, the Marlins hit very well. The quintessence of shortstops, Hanley Ramirez, led the league in batting average while second baseman Dan Uggla bashed a prolific 30 home runs. And of course, at the top of the rotation was Johnson. In 2009, he finished 15-5 and struck out 191 batters.
But who followed?
Currently on the Marlin depth chart, Ricky Nolasco is the number two starting pitcher. Nolasco compiled a 5.06 ERA and does not provide a convincing option behind Johnson. Penciled in at 3-4-5 are Anibal Sanchez, Sean West, and Chris Volstad.
The latter's ERA was over 5, West threw to the tune of a 4.79 ERA, and Anibal Sanchez pitched fairly well but could not complete a full season. The Marlins pitching staff is in a state of flux.
That could be the least of their problems.
Florida is resting all of their pitching hopes on Johnson, and he may not even be a Marlin come the time their new stadium opens in 2012. Josh has two more years on his contract until he can elect free agency, and he may start making some big bucks come next year (where he is expected to make $4.2M in arbitration according to MLB.com).
Can the Marlins afford Johnson? They were recently ordered by the MLB to spend more money, so shelling out a four year deal for their ace isn't out of the question.
The Marlins won't be able to match up with the Phillies or the Cardinals as a power in the NL, but they can certainly win a Wild Card. Florida is built similarly to the Rockies, with good hitting and a young ace leading the staff. With Chris Coghlan set to improve upon his Rookie of the Year campaign and the rest of the pitching staff looking to augment their win totals, things are certainly looking up for the 2010 Marlins.
With big hitter Michael Stanton rising through the ranks, trading a bat and a mid-rotation arm for a number two starter doesn't look like the worst idea. A closer is another necessity, but a trial by fire should bring out a capable solution to the situation.
Strike three, you're out.