JUPITER, Fla. – Josh Johnson was walking the golf course as a spectator at the Honda Classic last week when he encountered a stranger who was a fan of the Miami Marlins ace.
"He said he had me in fantasy league last year," Johnson recalled. "I said, 'Sorry.'"
Johnson's 2011 season was curtailed by injury, and he pitched for the first time since May on Monday, throwing 1 2-3 scoreless innings to help the Marlins beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the spring training opener for both teams.
Johnson made only nine starts last year before right shoulder inflammation ended his season. He described his first outing of the spring as a successful steppingstone, and he received favorable reviews from the Cardinals.
"Obviously he's feeling good. He's throwing all his pitches in all the counts," said Skip Schumaker, who flied out leading off the first inning. "He's one of the better pitchers in the league, so I wasn't too surprised to see him that good early on."
Kyle Lohse, who led the Cardinals last year in victories and ERA, pitched the first two innings and allowed only one runner — Greg Dobbs, who homered. Lohse threw strikes on 20 of his 26 pitches.
"That's the main thing," he said. "I'm happy with that. I'm not trying to strike guys out; I'm trying to get them out with three or four pitches. And I felt like I was able to do that."
The game was the first after an eventful offseason for both teams.
The historically thrifty Marlins went on a spending binge, hiring Ozzie Guillen as manager and acquiring four All-Stars in anticipation of their move into a new ballpark. As for the Cardinals, manager Tony La Russa retired, and slugger Albert Pujols left after 11 seasons to sign a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels.
"Kind of weird not seeing Pujols out there," Johnson said.
New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was so eager to get started he arrived at the ballpark shortly after 4 a.m., nine hours before game time.
"Sleep wasn't a priority," he said. "I couldn't wait to get here and get this day going."
Lohse crossed paths with Matheny in the training room before the game.
"I asked him if he was nervous," Lohse said. "He said he wasn't the one facing Johnson, so he didn't have anything to worry about."
Johnson showed signs of the stuff that helped him lead the NL in ERA in 2010. He retired the first five batters, striking out Jon Jay and Matt Holliday.
"He looked free and easy," Holliday said. "He threw me a good 3-2 changeup, which on the first day of spring I didn't really expect. I'm sure he's happy getting back on the mound."
With two out in the second inning, Johnson gave up a single, a double and a walk to load the bases. At that point he had thrown 41 pitches, and Guillen took him out.
"Great outing," Guillen said. "He threw the ball very well and pain-free. That's a very, very good beginning. Hopefully we keep it on track. Obviously we have to monitor it very carefully, but I'm very excited to see this kid back on the mound."
The double came on a liner by Tyler Greene that sailed past third baseman Hanley Ramirez, who's learning a new position so newcomer Jose Reyes can play shortstop.
Johnson said Ramirez told him the ball fooled him.
"He said, 'During the season I'll get that, I promise,'" Johnson said. "I said, 'I believe you.'"
Ramirez didn't have any putouts or assists. The lone error was by Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who misplayed a routine fly.
"Dropped the ball," Stanton said. "Don't do it again."
As planned, Reyes did not play in this game.
NOTES: "Get yer Albert Pujols pretzels here," a vendor shouted to laughter from Cardinals fans. ... The two teams share the same training complex, but the stands were a sea of Cardinals red. ... Holliday, batting in the No. 3 spot long occupied by Pujols, went 0 for 2. Matheny said he plans to experiment with the batting order. ... The Marlins play four games in the next two days, including games at their new ballpark against the University of Miami on Tuesday and Florida International University on Wednesday.