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PIRATES Johnson has new outlook for 2005



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The pitcher spent the last half of 2004 in the minor leagues.

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Mike Johnston took life for granted in the major leagues last year and paid the price by spending the second half in the minors.

This spring, the left-hander is trying to take back his spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. Johnston, 25, said he won't make the same mistake if he earns a spot on the 25-man roster.

"I got away from doing the things I needed to do to stay in the big leagues last year," Johnston said. "I didn't take everything as seriously as I should have. I needed to step back again and see what I had to correct."

In better shape

Johnston realized he needed to get in better shape. He renewed his commitment to conditioning in the winter, dropped 10 pounds and has kept the weight off during the early part of spring training.

His weight won't be an issue this season, he said. "I don't want to get too comfortable again."

Like last spring, when he became the second known major leaguer to have Tourette's syndrome, Johnston must pitch his way onto the roster. He is trying to join fellow second-year players Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow as the left-handers in the Pirates bullpen.

"We need for him to throw the way he was early last year," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's struggled to get back, but he's got a fine arm and is a tremendous talent. We think he's part of our future."

Made jump last season

Johnston, who had spent six years in the Pirates' farm system, participated in his first major-league camp in 2004 and pitched well enough to bypass Triple-A and make the Pirates' opening day roster.

He was one of the team's early success stories, not allowing a run until his 10th appearance May 11. At the end of the month, his ERA was an impressive 1.84. But the good times ended even quicker than they began.

Johnston allowed nine runs in his next 10 appearances and was placed on the disabled list June 24 with left elbow inflammation. When he regained his health, Johnston was sent to Class AAA Nashville, where he spent the rest of the season.

Johnston thinks his season may have gone differently if he had kept himself in better shape.

"You get a little too cocky and get a little ahead of yourself," he said. "I let go a little bit and it caught up with me too quick. My body started fatiguing."

Changes eating habits

Johnston said he had difficulty turning his back on all of the food that is available to the players.

"It seemed like I was eating all the time," he said. "You're surrounded by spreads. There's food everywhere you go and they give you ice cream on the plane. I took full advantage of it. I won't make that mistake again."




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