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Johnson's strong start earns NL honors

Johnson's strong start earns NL honors

MIAMI -- When Josh Johnson came back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last July and dominated Major League hitters for the rest of the season, he started turning heads.

And after storming out of the gates to post a 0.57 ERA during the first week of the season, he's gotten the entire baseball world's attention.

Johnson, the Marlins' ace right-hander, gave up just one earned run in 15 2/3 innings last week to notch two wins -- one a complete game -- and become this season's first National League Player of the Week, presented by Bank of America, on Monday.

While the world is still getting to know Johnson, teammates and NL East opponents sure have noticed. And Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, who made him his pick to win the 2009 NL Cy Young Award, is looking like a prophet.

"He pounds the strike zone, he's got good sink, he's got a good cutter, he's got a great slider," Uggla said on Opening Day. "Every one of his pitches is a plus pitch. There are a lot of good pitchers out there, and I'm sure there are five or six others that have a great chance to win a Cy Young. But he's on my team, and he's my man."

It's easy to see why.

Johnson dominated the Nationals during his first start of the season on Tuesday. But that paled in comparison to what he did against ace left-hander Johan Santana and the Mets on Sunday.

The 25-year-old, 6-foot-7 power arm had a no-hitter going through five -- until Luis Castillo broke it up with a broken-bat single with one out in the sixth -- retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, shut out the dangerous, lefty-loaded Mets lineup through the first eight innings and was just one strike away from recording a shutout.

In the ninth, while still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun, Johnson gave up a two-out double to Carlos Delgado, then an RBI single off the glove of a diving Hanley Ramirez before getting Ryan Church to fly out and end it.

Johnson needed that out, considering that would've been his final batter regardless. In fact, he needed every single out, as Santana didn't give up an earned run and struck out 13 through seven innings.

"I needed to finish that one," said Johnson, who ended up scattering five hits, walking one and striking out seven. "That was my thing coming into this year -- to finish. Finish what you started. That doesn't necessarily mean finish the game, but finish the inning, finish that pitch, all that stuff."

Thanks to a dropped fly ball with two outs in the second inning by left fielder Daniel Murphy, and Johnson's brilliance, the Marlins took the series against the Mets and improved to a franchise-best-tying 5-1 to start the season.

Johnson needed 113 pitches -- 77 of which were strikes -- to notch his second career complete game, move to 5-0 against the dangerous Mets and improve to 9-1 since his return from major surgery last season.

"He showed the type of pitcher he is today," Marlins corner infielder Wes Helms said Sunday. "We're used to that, we've seen that out of him. But today it was just a different level."

Against the Nationals on Tuesday, he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out eight. Already this season, Johnson has struck out 15 batters while walking just one.

"He's so pro," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He comes in, you don't even know he's around. He does his work. He was holding base runners [Sunday], slide-stepping, I didn't even put [a pickoff move] on. He did it all himself. That's the sign of maturity, that's a sign of a pitcher taking charge of that game. That's all the good stuff you want to see."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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