AP Photo/Tom Gannam
The 24-year-old Johnson broke out with a 3.10 ERA over 157 innings in 2006, then missed nearly all of 2007 with arm trouble that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. His recovery from the surgery was a remarkably rapid 11 months, and the early post-surgery returns are excellent.
A fourth-round pick in 2002, Johnson moved through the minors quickly, earning a reputation as a ground-baller with decent control who misses enough bats to be successful even without stellar infield defense behind him. Johnson offers a mid-90s sinking fastball without great movement. He also uses a slider, but his changeup and ability to alter speeds is a currently a greater weapon than his breaking ball.
Johnson owns a career 3.42 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 202 minor league innings. During the course of his career on the farm, he struck out 7.41 batters per nine innings while issuing 3.13 walks per nine. Johnson had a 12 1/3-inning cup of coffee in 2005, but reached the majors for good in 2006. That season, Johnson demonstrated skills not unlike the ones on display throughout his minor league career. He ended the season with 7.62 strikeouts and 3.9 walks per nine innings.
Johnson has taken his game to another level in 2008. He continues to show a strong ground-ball rate and limits homers too. This year, however, his control has improved to 2.8 walks per nine innings, and his strikeout rate is all the way up to 8.3. He's missing more bats and putting fewer people on base. A 34 percent hit rate prevented him from talking a big step forward in WHIP despite the improved control, but the seeds of No. 2 starterdom are starting to show.
In 13 starts, Johnson allowed more than three runs just twice despite facing the capable offenses of the Cubs, Mets and Phillies seven times. The performance is especially impressive considering his major league inexperience, a lost season of development and the super-quick recovery from surgery.
Johnson is owned in just 65 percent of ESPN leagues, but he's made legitimate strides this year, and at age 24 he looks like a future fixture on mixed-league rosters.
Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
He went 2-for-4 with his 17th homer since being traded to L.A., as the Dodgers clinched a tie for the NL West title. Ramirez's line since joining the Dodgers: .398, 17 HRs, 53 RBIs, 1.248 OPS in just 181 at-bats.
Tim Redding, Nationals
A moderate fantasy surprise for much of the season, Redding was roughed up for seven runs and seven hits in just 2 1/3 innings against the Marlins. Redding is 0-3 with an 11.57 ERA in his final three starts of the season.
After a subpar four-inning performance Tuesday, Javier Vazquez might pitch on short rest Saturday when the White Sox take on Cleveland. ... Due to a sore shoulder, Andy Pettitte will not make his Saturday start. The left-hander is done for the year, and will be replaced by Sidney Ponson in the rotation. ... Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie pitched a simulated game Wednesday and is scheduled to start the final game of the season on Sunday. ... Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter met with a specialist Wednesday. The former Cy Young winner has a compressed nerve in his shoulder, but is still undecided on a course of treatment. ... Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, out since May with a knee injury that required surgery, will start Thursday in his return to the rotation. Injured ace Ben Sheets played catch and hopes to start Saturday's game, though his status won't be determined until then. ... In his column for The Sporting News, Tigers reliever Todd Jones said he plans to announce his retirement after this season. "If you're a Tigers fan, I'll never stress you out again. If you're not a Tigers fan, you'll never have me as your ace in the hole, convinced I'll blow a lead against your team," Jones wrote. Jones, on the DL since August, was 4-1 with a 4.97 ERA and 18 saves in 21 chances this year. He finishes with 319 career saves, including a team-record 235 for the Tigers.
"Ask any observant general manager and he would put [Joe] Mauer in the top five players in the American League because of his position, his athleticism, his unselfishness and skill, far beyond the possibility of being a two-time batting champion at age 25 and no matter what his home run totals may read. That the Twins are fighting for the playoffs on the final weekend is testament to their organizational philosophy (not to mention that Ron Gardenhire is one of his generation's most underappreciated managers), but it wouldn't have happened without Mauer as the franchise linchpin."-- Peter Gammons Full story
"The key to the Mets' last week of the regular season is Johan Santana. We saw a great example of him taking care of business Tuesday night. If they had lost with him Tuesday night, I would've bet the Mets would miss the playoffs. However, since they won and Johan Santana will be pitching in the final game, you will definitely see the Mets play in the postseason. This time last year the Mets didn't have anyone close to Santana who could win a big game for sure. Plus, we all know the rest of the bullpen could use a lot of help right now."-- Tim Kurkjian Baseball Tonight Clubhouse
• The Mets activated John Maine from the 15-day disabled list. Maine had been out for nearly a month with a sore shoulder. Offseason surgery is still a possibility, and he'll work as a reliever for the remainder of the season.
• The Dodgers activated shortstop Rafael Furcal from the 60-day disabled list. After missing most of the season, Furcal isn't exactly in top game shape, but he could be a big contributor during the playoffs.
• The Dodgers also placed right-hander Brad Penny on the 60-day disabled list. Penny, who battled shoulder issues all year, made just two September appearances as a reliever after rejoining the team following his second DL stint. He's out for the postseason, and the possibility of offseason shoulder surgery clouds his 2009 outlook.