If Randy Johnson wins his unprecedented fifth straight Cy Young Award this season, he will become the oldest pitcher ever to earn the honor.
After the Diamondbacks’ first pitcher-and-catcher workout of the spring Thursday, Johnson — who turns 40 on Sept. 10 — said he wants to play at least a couple of more years. But he also admitted some concessions to age in his approach to offseason conditioning.
“There were certain things that I did this offseason that maybe I didn't do in the past,” Johnson said.
“As you get a little bit older you have to do things to try to keep you where you want to be, and where I want to be is at a level that not too many other people are at. . . . I want to maintain what I've had in the past, if not get better. I still don't think I've had my best year.”
Some of those adjustments included hiring a personal trainer to “push” him and meeting with John Gleddie, a Canadian specialist in endurance training. Gleddie will help Johnson monitor his between-starts workouts, to ensure his muscles recover enough from one game to the next to lessen the cumulative effect of his heavy workload.
Johnson also went to San Diego to see pitching consultant Tom House, a former major league pitching coach, and make some mechanical adjustments. House convinced Johnson he can take even greater advantage of his 6-foot-10 frame and release the ball 6-7 inches closer to the batter.
Which is a frightening thought for National League batters.
“I'm always trying to stay ahead of the curve, above the curve and ahead of my opponents,” Johnson said.
“He understands what is required of his body over the course of a season,” manager Bob Brenly said. “He works very hard in the wintertime to get himself into that position to go through another year.
“A lot of times in this game, and in all sports, you lose sight of all the hard work that goes into the things that you get the glory for.”
Since Johnson is currently eligible for free agency after the season, his agents and the Diamondbacks are working on a contract extension. Johnson declined to comment on specifics but said he was determined to avoid a repeat of 1998, when eventually fruitless negotiations with the Seattle Mariners contributed to a subpar four months and eventual trade to Houston.
“I've learned quite a bit from that,” Johnson said, “and it won't be a distraction at all.”
If Johnson wins another Cy Young Award, which would be the sixth of his career, he would be five days older than Gaylord Perry was in 1978.
Johnson can also shoot for his third straight league ERA title — a feat accomplished only by Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux — and needs 254 strikeouts for 4,000 in his career.
As for the long term, Johnson believes he can pitch past his 42nd birthday.
“I think I'm very capable of pitching this year and at least a couple of years beyond this year,” he said. “As long as the fire in me is still burning — which it is — I will continue to go out there and be on the mission that I've been on for some time.”