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In praise of Josh Johnson, one of the very best pitchers you might not remember

ATLANTA - JULY 02: Pitcher Josh Johnson #55 of the Florida Marlins against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Nearly five years since he last pitched in a Major League game, you'd be forgiven for forgetting about Josh Johnson. He made 20 or more starts in a season just four times and only received Cy Young Award votes once. The teams he played on -- the Marlins from 2005-2012 and the Blue Jays in 2013 -- won an average of 77 games a year. He never pitched in the postseason. 
Of course, as any fan in South Florida will tell you, the numbers don't really do Johnson justice. So, on his 34th birthday, let's look back on his all-too-brief career -- and the couple of months during which he was arguably the best pitcher on the planet.

That was the best start of Johnson's career, a 12-strikeout, complete-game win over the Padres back on April 26, 2010. It was also the beginning of his coming-out party: The righty posted the lowest ERA in the Majors that year, striking out 186 batters over 183 2/3 innings and finishing fifth in Cy Young Award voting.
He was the platonic ideal of a power pitcher, using his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame to produce an overwhelming fastball -- the fourth-fastest in baseball, behind only Ubaldo Jiménez, Justin Verlander and David Price. Good luck hitting this:

Johnson was just entering his prime at age 26, armed with a new four-year contract and coming off of a career year -- and then, in 2011, he somehow managed to one-up himself.
He began by taking a no-hitter into the seventh against the Mets:

And then took a no-hitter into the eighth against the Braves:

And then dominated the Reds:

Johnson's start to 2011 is one of the most underrated stretches of pitching in baseball history: nine games, 60 1/3 innings, 56 K's and a microscopic 1.64 ERA. And if that isn't enough, consider that he took a no-hitter into at least the fifth inning in four out of his first five starts.
Alas, right as we were about to witness Peak Josh Johnson, the injuries came. He missed the rest of the 2011 season due to shoulder inflammation. After a solid but unspectacular year in 2012, the Marlins shipped him to Toronto as part of the José Reyes megadeal. Johnson missed the start of 2013 with a triceps injury, looked like a shell of his former self over 16 starts with the Jays, then missed the rest of the season with bone spurs in his elbow.
He signed a one-year deal with the Padres in 2014, only to require Tommy John surgery before the season even began. The combination of arm soreness and nerve trouble in his neck sidelined him in 2015, and his comeback attempt the next year was thwarted by yet another Tommy John procedure. He retired last January, turning down a Minor League deal with the Giants.
It seems unfair that the last image we have of Johnson on a Major League mound is a 6.20 ERA with Toronto in 2013. So, rather than wondering what could've been, it's worth looking back and remembering what actually was -- after all, not many guys could make David Wright look like this: