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Johnson feels spry in spring debut

Johnson feels spry in spring debut

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rob Johnson's first Spring Training game of 2010 was almost too good to be true.

On Monday against the D-backs at Tucson Electric Park, the Mariners catcher -- coming off three offseason surgeries and limited thus far to bullpen sessions, workouts and a simulated game -- had plenty of action.

He threw out a potential basestealer at second base, just missed throwing out another, barely missed picking off a runner at first, and was denied an extra-base hit when his warning-track fly ball to right-center was caught on a dead run by D-backs outfielder Evan Frey in a highlight-reel play.

All things considered, however, Johnson, who caught five innings in the Mariners' 13-5 loss to the D-backs, was ecstatic.

"It was tremendous," Johnson said. "I've been waiting a long time, and it was a great feeling to be out there."

It also was productive. Johnson said he had several goals for the outing, which came after what he called significantly dissipating soreness in his hips just about every morning this spring. Johnson had surgeries on the labrums in both hips and a broken right wrist over the winter.

"I wanted to get a pick, and I got that," Johnson said. "I wish I had a few more balls in the dirt, but there were a couple, and I felt like I was quick, so that's good. I really feel tremendous. I felt like I could have caught the whole game.

"My biggest thing was blocking. There were a couple balls I had to get down on, and I felt really mobile, which I haven't felt in a long, long time. It's almost like I'm relearning, because I'm a lot quicker than I used to be. It's really nice to get back there in game action and game speed. It was awesome."

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu stuck with Johnson for the prescribed five innings and loved what he saw. He said he's already noticed how much more mobile Johnson seems in comparison to the 2009 season, when the hips gave him problems, particularly as the season wore on.

"I was real impressed with what he did and how he handled [starter] Cliff [Lee], and swinging the bat, too," Wakamatsu said. "To see him drive a ball to the right-center gap and have the freedom in his hips, it's a noticeable difference [from last year].

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"I see a lot more quickness. ... He had two nice throws. ... To have him come in the first day and get some things [done], he was moving around a bit, catching a guy he hadn't caught in a game, and came out fine. So I'm real happy."

Johnson is happy simply to be back in a lineup. He said he would most likely play again Wednesday and Friday, which is important for the Mariners, who would most likely prefer to begin the regular season with the player who went 46-29 as a starter last year and helped his pitchers to a 3.22 ERA when he was catching. That statistic led all Major League receivers and was more than a full run below the Major League average of 4.32.

In the meantime, Johnson said he'll be working hard on getting his bat up to speed. He went 0-for-3, striking out against Arizona starter Dan Haren in his first at-bat and not looking very good in doing so. He laughed when reminded about it.

"My first two at-bats were tough, just getting that timing back after not seeing live pitching in a game situation in so long," Johnson said. "On that first at-bat, it looked [like Haren's fastball was] a million [mph]. He was throwing hard. But after that second at-bat it got a little bit better."

Johnson's body is getting better every day, too. He said that he would be jumping in an ice tub right after finishing his media session.

"I've been doing it every single day," Johnson said. "Three minutes in hot, two minutes in cold, then back to hot and cold. But I feel like my legs are underneath me now."

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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