Josh Johnson out for the season with shoulder inflammation

Various sources are announcing that the Florida Marlins will shut down ace starter Josh Johnson for the remainder of the 2011 season due to his shoulder inflammation. After missing two and a half months with the injury, it seems the Marlins are taking the wise route of shutting down Johnson in order to not risk further injury and let him rest the shoulder for Opening Day in 2012.

On the one hand, this seems like “good news” in the sense that the Marlins are not rushing to get Johnson back on the field in a season that is essentially lost. It would be wasteful of the Marlins to send him out this year to just to get the bump in positive fan response from having the team’s ace return to action. Allowing him to heal lets the Marlins prepare for a more promising 2012 season and gets one of the team’s best players and biggest contracts recover from yet another injury setback. This is smart on the part of the Marlins and is a subtle difference between how they treated him just two years ago. In 2009, Johnson was blazing his comeback trail and succeeding after returning from Tommy John surgery the previous year, but he ran into discomfort in his throwing shoulder late in the season. The Marlins decided to let him pitch despite this, and he finished the year decently. Last season, the Marlins were more quick to shut down Johnson for his back and shoulder problems, taking him out of the last month of the year. This season, Johnson appears to be out of the mix entirely.

And herein lies the “bad news” about this situation: Johnson’s history of ailments have rightfully earned him the dreaded tag of “injury-prone.”

Check out this injury history, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’s injury database.

The early years were quite gruesome, but Tommy John surgery patients typically have good recovery rates and fewer problems with re-occurrence of symptoms. However, shoulder injuries are a little more troublesome, and the fact that he had a bout of inflammation last season that kept him out of the last month of the year does not look encouraging. Marlins fans have seen first-hand what a shoulder injury can do to a player, having seen the anecdotal evidence that is Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez also began with a simple case of shoulder inflammation during training camp, but the injury was found to be structural damage and kept Sanchez out of the better part of three seasons. Of course, Johnson’s case is different; his visit with Dr. James Andrews found no structural damage, indicating that it is just a more severe case of shoulder inflammation. However, the history does not indicate good things, and there is a decent chance the Marlins may see more lost time from Johnson in the future. In 2012, he will be heading into his third season of a four-year extension, but he has pitched only 244 innings during that time period, translating to a little more than a season’s worth of work. The injury concerns that a lot of fans were clamoring about appear to be coming to fruition, and the Marlins have no choice but to stick by Johnson’s side. I am in favor of supporting Johnson and getting him back to health, but the optimism I had following the 2009 season when he first signed the extension is diminishing in the face of his checkered injury history. Here’s hoping JJ can come back in full force for the newly minted Miami Marlins next season.

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