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Why you should pull for Josh Johnson

Notes on Kemp, Ross, Solarte, Gyorko

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

After a nearly a half century in this business, I've found I pull for some athletes more than others. Maybe it's how they go about their business ... or how they deal with me.

But I have favorites. I admit it.

One player I've been pulling hard for the past two seasons is right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson.

The "why" is very simple.

For one thing, the 31-year-old is a class act. More importantly, I've seldom seen an athlete work harder and stay more engaged in trying to return from a devastating -- and possibly career-ending -- injury than Johnson.

I arrived at Spring Training in 2014 the morning after Johnson sustained the injury that would lead to a second Tommy John surgery and a two-year effort to return. He suffered a major setback on Friday night, when he walked off the mound after just four pitches in a rehab outing in Visalia.

Johnson was complaining of pain in his elbow and forearm as he walked off the field accompanied by the trainer of the Padres' high Class A Lake Elsinore affiliate.

That outing, Johnson's first in a regular-season game at any level since he signed as a free agent with the Padres, was to have been a major step forward on his road back to the Majors. Instead, it was a horrible leap in the other direction.

I have no idea what the future holds for Johnson. He returned to San Diego on Saturday afternoon and had his swollen elbow evaluated by team physician Heinz Hoenecke. My guess is Johnson faces some major decisions ahead.

Might he undergo a third Tommy John surgery? The odds of returning from that are staggeringly long. Of course, the injury might not be what everyone is fearing. Honestly, we don't know.

But what happened on Friday in Visalia is only a small part of Johnson's story.

For two years, he worked tirelessly to be a Padre. Many pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery choose to rehab at home, since they and their clubs know they are sidelined for at least a year. The first part of the rehab process are drills you can do in the living room while watching television.

Video: Johnson talks about choosing San Diego

Instead of going home, Johnson remained in San Diego. He not only stayed here and worked here, he was in the Padres' clubhouse at almost every home game. When the team was on the road, he worked out on his own at Petco Park.

He stayed involved. His efforts were respected by other players. Johnson was committed.

But sometimes, as the saying goes, bad things happen to good people.

So I said a little prayer two nights ago, asking that this might not be the end of the baseball road for Josh Johnson ... that this injury is not what it seems and 2016 holds a future for a pitcher who, when healthy, was among the best in the Major Leagues.

An announcement of Johnson's next step is expected in several days.


• Matt Kemp was 2-for-4 on Saturday night to extend his streak for reaching base to 25 games, the longest active streak in the National League and the third-longest in the Major Leagues this season. It is the longest by a Padre since Chase Headley reached base in 28 straight games in 2012, and is the ninth-longest by a Padre since the start of the 2000 season. Saturday was the right fielder's 40th multi-hit game of the season.

• Right-handed starter Tyson Ross allowed one run on five hits, while walking two and hitting a batter on Saturday. Although he picked up the loss, Ross's earned run average fell to a season-low 3.21. Ross is 4-2 over his last eight starts, with a 2.61 earned run average. Ross's ERA has fallen in 15 of his last 24 starts.

• Jedd Gyorko was back at second base on Saturday, but he went 0-for-4 to snap his seven-game hitting streak. Gyorko hit .333 (10-for-30) during the streak, with two home runs and seven RBIs.

• Third baseman Yangervis Solarte was 1-for-4 on Saturday to extend his hitting streak to six games. He is 10-for-26 (.385) during the streak, with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs. Solarte is hitting .311 (47-for-151) over his last 39 games.

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