Johnson expects to return as reliever

SAN FRANCISCO -- Randy Johnson believes he will pitch again this season for San Francisco, albeit as a reliever.

The 45-year-old Big Unit is on the 60-day disabled list and has been sidelined since July 6 with a strained left shoulder. He acknowledged pitching more than five innings and being effective would be tough at this stage.

Johnson is 8-6 this season and earned his 300th career victory. The Giants are in contention for the NL West and wild-card spots.

"Starting is out for me now, because I've been out for two months," Johnson said Sunday. "When this happened, I was really discouraged. I'm late in my career, not early. It's not something I envisioned. ... It would be nice to come back in some capacity and help the team. Right now I'm just trying to get healthy."

He was examined Sunday morning by team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki and the club hopes Johnson will be able to throw off the mound by later in the week.

"He was encouraged because I'm a lot further now than the last time he examined me," Johnson said. "Things are going in the right direction. I'm in uncharted waters."

Johnson has spent most of his time rehabilitating in Arizona, where the 303-game winner has thrown from up to 90 feet. He also returned to San Francisco on Sunday because it was his bobblehead day at AT&T Park.

"He wants to come back real bad," said manager Bruce Bochy, who didn't rule out Johnson making another 2009 start. "If we can get Randy back to help us out in some capacity, it would be big for this ballclub. He's worked hard. It would be nice to see him back on the mound to help us out."

This is the 10th DL stint of his 22-year big league career. He has had four knee surgeries and three back surgeries and worked his way back.

Johnson felt something in his arm on a swing during his start against Houston on July 5 but initially tried to pitch through it. He then left the game after committing a throwing error in the top of the fourth.

While Johnson said Sunday this could be his final year, he will wait until the offseason to make a decision regarding his future. He said there's still a tear in his shoulder that will take time to heal. Whether or not he could pitch as a starter in 2010 probably will play into his choice, he said.

"I haven't gotten that far yet," Johnson said. "I've never envisioned myself as a reliever. It's never what I wanted to do."