Johnson will skip Triple-A star turn

Being a starting pitcher in the Triple-A All-Star Game would be a big deal for most players, but not 51s right-hander Jason Johnson.

The 10-year major leaguer has respectfully declined a chance to start for the Pacific Coast League in the July 16 game at Louisville, Ky.

“It’s an honor, but my goal is to get to the big leagues, not to make an All-Star team in Triple A,” said Johnson, 34, who is 10-5 with a 4.22 ERA for Las Vegas. “I figured there’s a lot of young guys in Triple A who deserve a chance and I’m not going to take one of their spots.”

The 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound Johnson has a 55-98 record and 4.99 ERA in stints with seven major league teams: Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston and Cincinnati.

Johnson, who played last year in Japan, is scheduled to pitch tonight against the Tucson Sidewinders at Cashman Field in relief of Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jason Schmidt, who is slated to throw 65 pitches in his third rehab start for Las Vegas.

Johnson has recovered from a poor start this season. He allowed 17 earned runs on 23 hits in his first 11 1/3 innings for the 51s, but has held opponents to two earned runs or less in 11 of his last 15 starts. He has allowed 116 hits in 102 1/3 innings overall, walking 30 and striking out 87.

“He’s been our main horse since (starter Eric Stults) went up (to the Dodgers),” 51s manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “His first couple of starts weren’t very good, but after that he’s been our big dog, giving us quality innings and chances to win ballgames.

“Realistically, he’s not a Triple-A pitcher; he’s a big league pitcher. He’s been a savior for us.”

Johnson, who said he’s “getting close to where he wants to be,” has been buoyed by pinpoint control of his fastball.

“I feel like I could close my eyes and throw it where I want to right now,” he said. “That’s what’s really helped me a lot this year.”

An attitude adjustment also has helped Johnson.

“I think I’m just happy,” he said. “I just got it this offseason. I said ‘You know what, I’ve got plenty of time in the big leagues and I’m just going to have fun now,’ instead of being so tense all the time.

“I was like that in the big leagues. I was real tense. It was like ‘I HAVE to win,’ and that kind of hurt me and has been one of my downfalls.

“Now I’m at the point in my career where I’m just going to have fun and whatever happens, happens.”

Johnson, who plans to spend next week’s All-Star break at his home in Tampa, Fla., is confident he’ll earn another trip to the majors.

“The way I’m pitching now and with the attitude I have, whether it’s with the Dodgers or not, I’m going to go to the big leagues with somebody,” he said. “I know that for a fact.”

• NOTES — Schmidt, 35, has allowed four earned runs on nine hits in five innings for the 51s, walking three and striking out one. … Dodgers infielder Mark Sweeney (right hamstring) is scheduled to join the 51s today for a rehab assignment. He is expected to remain throughout the eight-game homestand. … Reliever B.J. LaMura was promoted to Las Vegas from Double-A Jacksonville and gave up two runs on two hits in four innings Monday, with no walks and three strikeouts. … Los Angeles released 51s reliever Greg Jones.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ or 702-383-0354.

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