Big Unit continues to make strides

Big Unit continues to make strides

PHOENIX -- Randy Johnson once again looked sharp on Thursday, as he tossed three scoreless innings and struck out five while allowing two hits in the D-backs' 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. Johnson is recovering from back surgery.

"Great slider tonight, hit 93 [mph] again," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "The command for me right now is unbelievable for a guy that's coming off back surgery and has limited innings."

Johnson is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League camp game on April 3 and for Class A Visalia on April 8. After that, Johnson felt he would need just one more start before being activated.

"There's a world of difference between how I'm pitching in spring training than the way I was pitching the last two or three months of last year," said Johnson, who won 17 games with the Yankees last season despite back problems.

Assuming he stays on that schedule, he would be on track to pitch April 18 or 19, which would be against the Padres in San Diego.

On Thursday night, Johnson breezed through a lineup that had three regulars. In the first inning, he retired Jose Cruz Jr. on a fly ball and struck out Geoff Blum and Adrian Gonzalez.

In the second, Johnson gave up a single to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was caught stealing as Johnson struck out Russell Branyan. Johnson also struck out Terrmel Sledge.

In the third, Pete Laforest led off with an infield single and was erased on Sean Kazmar's double-play grounder. Johnson ended his stint by striking out starting pitcher Mike Thompson.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.