VIERA, Fla. -- At last, the Marlins and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Josh Johnson cleared his final hurdle, working 5 2/3 pain-free innings on Friday night against the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.
The performance, while not spectacular, was significant in that Johnson has now completed Spring Training completely healthy. The Miami ace bumped up his pitch count to 89, which was pretty much right on target for the 90 he was projected to throw.
"What I've been happy with the entire time is making sure I'm feeling good," Johnson said. "I've been working to make sure I'm recovering. I'm feeling good out there. It's going pretty much according to plan, so far."
Up next for Johnson is throwing the first pitch ever in a regular season game at Marlins Park. Johnson will make his third career Opening Day start when he faces the defending World Series champion Cardinals on Wednesday.
Friday marked the sixth and final start of the Grapefruit League season for Johnson. He gave up three runs on six hits, with one walk. Telling were the nine strikeouts, showing his potential to dominate.
"I didn't know I had that many," he said.
For the spring, Johnson threw 22 1/3 innings. How he would hold up in Spring Training was among the most watched storylines for the Marlins. A year ago, he made just nine starts and had his season cut short in mid-May due to right shoulder inflammation.
"Now, it's time to get ready," Johnson said of the regular season. "It will be fun."
On a night Johnson was prepared to approach 90 pitches, his very first toss was damaging. Ian Desmond jumped a first-pitch fastball and crushed a home run that clanked off the light pole in left-center.
From there, the Marlins ace settled, recording all three outs of the first inning via the K. He did yield a broken-bat single to Ryan Zimmerman, but got out of it.
"I felt really good out there," Johnson said. "First inning. One bad pitch, I guess. I knew [Desmond] was swinging first-pitch, too. I said to myself, 'Just keep the ball down.' I didn't."
The Nationals made Johnson work in the first, to the tune of 21 pitches (15 strikes). In the second and third innings, the hard-throwing right-hander settled, tossing 12 pitches in each frame.
The fourth inning was a stressful one for Johnson, who racked up 19 pitches and allowed two runs. He quickly got into a jam by walking Jayson Werth. Seizing the opening, the Nationals strung together three straight singles, including an RBI hit by Xavier Nady.
Johnson minimized the damage after having the bases full and a run in with no outs. A second run in the inning did score on Wilson Ramos' 6-4-3 double play. But Ross Detwiler struck out, stranding a runner at third.
"I threw some pretty good pitches," Johnson said. "They found some holes. Some broken bats. They placed the balls in the right area. I was like, 'Hmm. I'm keeping the ball down.'"
At 76 pitches through five innings, Johnson in the sixth inning struck out Werth and Adam LaRoche. Both ran the counts full, and after LaRoche went down, manager Ozzie Guillen immediately went to the bullpen.
Johnson struck out Werth looking with his bread-and-butter pitch, his slider.
"I was going to throw it down the middle," Johnson said. "If he hit it, he hit it. I was making sure I didn't walk him. That's what I didn't want to do. It caught the middle inside of the plate, and I got him."
To LaRoche, the strikeout came on a fastball away.
"I'm starting to finally get the feeling back," Johnson said. "Being out so long, sometimes it's tough. Sometimes I'll shake [off a pitch] just to shake. To get the hitters thinking."
Johnson was pleased that he is finally getting that rhythm and tempo.
"That's kind of what I've been waiting on all spring, that rhythm and tempo and letting it go," Johnson said.
Guillen undecided on defensive sub for LoMo
VIERA, Fla. -- Ozzie Guillen said he hasn't made a decision about whether he'll use a defensive substitution for left fielder Logan Morrison this season.
"We'll see," the Marlins manager said. "To be honest, it depends on how the game's being played. I don't want to replace him [just to replace him]. The game will dictate what I'm gonna do. I don't want in the back of my mind, 'Oh, we've got to replace this guy right now.'"
Part of Guillen's hesitation is that he really hasn't had a chance to see Morrison defensively under game conditions this spring, since the slugger has been bothered by a sore right knee and made his first Grapefruit League appearance Friday night.
"I don't know how he is. I've got to see how he does out there and then we'll do what we have to do," Guillen said.
The skipper noted that Chris Coghlan would be well-suited to the role of defensive replacement, but added: "Replacing guys, it's kind of hard. Especially in the National League. In the American League, you can replace somebody because you're not going to use a pinch-hitter [for the pitcher]."
Despite strong spring, LeBlanc optioned
VIERA, Fla. -- Sometimes performance alone doesn't guarantee a place on the Opening Day roster. Wade LeBlanc found that out on Friday.
The Marlins' decision to option the left-hander to Triple-A New Orleans had nothing to do with how he pitched. Because if this decision was performance driven, there would be no question LeBlanc would deserve a roster spot.
But because he had an option, the Marlins exercised it to allow LeBlanc to pitch where he is best suited, and that's in the rotation.
"It's a very tough decision," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "This is the one that make you feel bad. But we need him to stay ready, just in case we need him at some point."
So LeBlanc heads to Minor League camp the day before the Marlins pack up and head down to Miami to get ready for Wednesday's opener against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.
LeBlanc did his part, making for a tough decision. In 20 2/3 innings, the lefty posted a 1.31 ERA with 19 strikeouts and two walks. He showed great command of four pitches, able to change speeds on all of them. And his changeup is a plus pitch.
"We didn't have much to say," Guillen said. "I just told him the truth."
In many ways, LeBlanc's style is similar to Mark Buehrle's. Neither is overpowering, but they can change speeds and compete.
LeBlanc just will be competing at Triple-A, and he is essentially the Marlins' "sixth starter." So in case anything happens to someone in Miami's rotation, LeBlanc is expected to get the first call.
"He understands," Guillen said. "He understands our point, and what we want to do. We tried to do what was best for everyone. Obviously, it's not the best for him. There's no question about it. The guy understands it."
Considering the health concerns of Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, it probably was a wise move to have someone with big league experience in the wings to step in, if necessary. Like LeBlanc, J.D. Martin, who was recently sent down, is capable of coming up to provide help. Unlike last year, the Marlins have some solid starting depth.
Miami decided to keep LeBlanc as a starter instead of a long reliever. Friday's move pretty much opens the door for non-roster invitee Chad Gaudin to make the club as a long reliever.
The Marlins will be able to create 40-man roster space for Gaudin when they officially transfer reliever Jose Ceda -- who will have Tommy John surgery on Tuesday -- to the 60-day disabled list.
LeBlanc was acquired from the Padres last November for catcher John Baker.