Josh Johnson woke up Monday without back pain for the first time in weeks. It wasn't enough to save his season.
Johnson was shut down for the remainder of the year by the Marlins, who remain in the postseason chase only by the slimmest of margins. Florida entered Monday eight games behind Atlanta in the NL wild-card race and nine games back of first-place Philadelphia in the NL East.
"It's just the smart thing to do," Johnson said.
The ace right-hander was scratched from a start last week after a strained muscle near the middle of his back forced him to end a bullpen session. Johnson also had his shoulder examined, mostly for precautionary reasons.
He might be able to resume playing catch later this month.
Once the Marlins said last weekend that Johnson wouldn't make his scheduled Wednesday start against the Phillies, it seemed only a matter of time before they declared his 2010 season complete.
"We saw that coming," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We were very careful with him and made a decision that we were going to shut him down. He was getting a little better, but he was very far from being 100 percent. So that's why we made the decision and he agreed."
Johnson went 11-6 with a career-best 2.30 ERA this season and matched a career high with 12 strikeouts in his final start, Sept. 4 against Atlanta. For the year, he struck out 186 in 183 2-3 innings.
But once the calendar flipped to August, there were some indicators that Johnson might have been wearing down.
Through July 31, Johnson — once considered a strong candidate for the NL Cy Young Award this season — was 10-3 with a 1.72 ERA and opponents were hitting .212 against him. In seven starts since, he was 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA and an opponents batting average of .284.
"I'm not one to make excuses," said Johnson, who pitched through a strained back muscle earlier this season. "Every now and then you could tell that things weren't kind of right or were a little off."
The Marlins were aware of Johnson's physical issues, Rodriguez said, but decided not to reveal them.
"We were not supposed to mention anything about that," Rodriguez said. "We knew that back then. I have to say I blame myself because I was part of that, but we kind of reached an agreement in saying it was a mechanical issue, but he was trying to pitch through it."
Since returning from reconstructive elbow surgery in July 2008, Johnson is 33-12 with a 2.94 ERA. The Marlins gave him a $39 million, four-year contract in January. He's due to make $7.75 million in 2011, then $13.75 million in 2012 (when Florida is scheduled to move into its new downtown Miami ballpark) and again in 2013.
"This morning was the first time I woke up and wasn't sore in my back in two months, maybe a month and a half," Johnson said. "It's been kind of an ongoing thing and something I've just got to deal with. It was actually kind of nice to get up and not having to help myself out of bed."