Johnson begins throwing; Padres have '15 option on righty

San Diego can bring back starter, who missed all of '14, for $4 million

Johnson begins throwing; Padres have '15 option on righty

SAN DIEGO -- Last Thursday, without fanfare and far from a big league ballpark, Josh Johnson picked up a baseball and did the one thing he had waited five long months to do.

He threw it to someone.

Johnson, who in April had Tommy John surgery, played catch for the first time on Oct. 9 near his home in Las Vegas, the first step toward a throwing program that will continue this month and into November.

"I'm very excited. … It's been a long time," Johnson said recently.

Johnson's first season with the Padres ended before it started, as the free-agent signing, who certainly came with some risk, was sidelined after 13 innings in Spring Training and later needed surgery.

Gone was the $8 million investment the Padres made in the right-hander, but that doesn't necessarily signal the end of his time with the team.

The Padres hold a $4 million option for 2015 on Johnson because he made fewer than seven starts -- credit former general manager Josh Byrnes for adding that wrinkle to the deal.

The team has three days after the conclusion of the World Series to exercise that option or decline it. The prevailing thought is even if the team declines it and Johnson has options to go elsewhere, they would still like to have him back next season.

"With Josh, he's a guy that everyone has a positive feel for," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said at the end of the regular season. "We'll try to go down the road with him and try to present something to him that makes sense to him."

For Johnson, who turns 31 in January, the feeling is mutual.

"I look at it [his time in San Diego] as unfinished business," Johnson said. "It's been very tough to sit here and watch it all. But I think I've actually learned more this year than any other year in the past put together.

"And as far as the organization goes, I couldn't have hoped for anything better. They've been amazing. Not just the training staff, either. But everyone here … there's been a lot of support."

Johnson treated this rehabilitation period differently than previous trips to the disabled list. He didn't just pop in for treatment at Petco Park before games, dress and leave. He stuck around, dressed in his uniform for games and soaked up everything he could from pitching coach Darren Balsley.

This involved heading out to the bullpen nearly each day when Balsley would work with a pitcher for his between-start throwing session.

"Watching the bullpens and listening to Bals, he's really, really good," Johnson said. "… Everyone learns differently and people have certain words that click differently for them. He knows how to talk to each person. It could be a little key or something else that goes a long ways with them.

"I spent a lot of time this year in the clubhouse, staying late, talking to the coaches, keeping my ears and eyes open. I learned so much from being around Bals. He's such a perfectionist. He's always working. Going through this, I have such a new appreciation for what he does and for guys that do that job."

Where would Johnson fit in '15 if the Padres re-sign him?

The team could -- and some believe, will -- move a starting pitcher this winter in hopes of landing a position player to bolster the worst offense in baseball.

The pitcher the Padres could part with could come from the trio of Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner or Ian Kennedy, leaving Jesse Hahn, Eric Stults and Odrisamer Despaigne as candidates to take rotation spots with No. 2 prospect Matt Wisler perhaps ready to move up from Triple-A.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.