The 2012 season didn't go exactly as planned for Josh Johnson, but there's hope that in the end he'll become a better pitcher because of it.
Toronto's right-hander experienced a drop in velocity last year, which prompted a change in the way he approached hitters. The days of simply overpowering opposing batters came to an end and was replaced with a more balanced attack.
Johnson now enters his first season in Toronto with a better understanding of how to keep hitters off balance by utilizing an improved arsenal, which now includes a polished curveball.
"I learned how to pitch," said Johnson, who went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts. "Sometimes I could get by with just throwing, blowing it by guys. Now I locate a lot better or slow him down to get the ball by him and miss bats."
Johnson threw a curveball when he was drafted by Miami in 2004, but the pitch was scrapped within a couple of years. The organization wanted him to focus on making the slider a lethal weapon, and for some reason felt it was necessary to take away the secondary offering.
That philosophy changed last season after his fastball struggled to regain its previous speed. Johnson averaged 95 mph on his fastball in 2009, but last year that dipped several notches to 92 mph, according to Fangraphs.
The drop in velocity wasn't entirely unexpected. Johnson suffered a shoulder injury the previous season, and by all accounts wasn't going to regain full strength until 2013. The hope is that the mid-90s fastball will return this year, but even if it doesn't, an improved curveball should go a long way to helping him become a more complete pitcher.
Johnson experimented with the pitch during Spring Training of 2012, but it wasn't until a third of the way through the season that it became a reliable option. He went on to throw the curve 15 percent of the time, and along the way it transitioned from a "show-me" pitch into a reliable strikeout weapon.
"I was out there and it would be good for one and then terrible for three, good for two, terrible for four, things like that," said Johnson, who is set to earn $13.75 million in the final year of his deal. "It was really inconsistent until about a third of the way through the season.
"All of a sudden I started throwing it for strikes and then I wouldn't use it enough. Then I started using it more, more, more and that's when I started getting the hang of it."
Johnson adjusts repertoire for bounce-back season
MLB.com | Feb 19