Randy Johnson on Saturday took what the Diamondbacks hope is the first of his last steps before pitching in a Cactus League game, as the Big Unit threw batting practice to live hitters.
Johnson, who used his entire repertoire in the 53-pitch session prior to Arizona’s game against Milwaukee at Maryvale Baseball Park, said that he remains pleased with his progress.
“I’ll get a good idea of how good my stuff is at this point when I actually face some live hitters in situations and throwing pitches in the appropriate counts instead of just throwing BP,” said Johnson, who is rehabilitating from offseason back surgery.
“To not have any real setbacks — other than maybe a stiff back at times, which is to be expected with the workload that I’ve been doing — is something I’m happy about.”
Johnson threw to Chris Carter, Josh Ford, Robby Hammock, Mark Reynolds, Rich Thompson and Justin Upton. Of 28 pitches swung at, six were missed, 14 fouled off and eight put in play.
The hardest ball hit came off the bat of Ford, who laced a Johnson slider for a line drive.
“He looked good, even though the hitters knew what was coming most of the time” manager Bob Melvin said. “For the first time on the mound against hitters, you have a tendency to rush things a bit, but he was making adjustments. We’ll see how he feels (today), but we are encouraged.”
Carter volunteered to hit against Johnson; the other players were selected by the coaching staff.
“I didn’t expect him to look so good for the first time out,” said Carter, an infielder who batted .301 with 19 home runs and 97 RBIs at Triple-A Tucson last season. “He’s probably the best pitcher I’ve ever faced, and he’s not even at (100 percent).”
Johnson, who has typically taken two days to rest between mound sessions, will throw at least one more round of batting practice before appearing in a game. That means he could take the hill in a Cactus League contest as soon as this weekend, but he still figures to start the regular season on the disabled list.
“He has had very few bumps, and we’ve been encouraged,” general manager Josh Byrnes said. “He’s getting better. Hopefully, he won’t miss too much time, and he’ll help us win a division.”
Left-hander Dana Eveland made his latest pitch for a spot in the Arizona rotation by allowing four hits and an earned run with no walks and a strikeout in three innings against his former team.
The D-Backs acquired Eveland, 23, from Milwaukee in the Johnny Estrada trade during the offseason.
“It was fun to pitch against the old boys,” Eveland said. “I knew the hitters, but they knew me just as well. I go through three innings with just a little damage, but I thought I did well.”
This spring, Eveland has allowed six hits and a run in six innings.
Closer Jose Valverde worked 1 2/3 innings on Saturday, and Melvin said that the right-hander has caught up after missing the start of Cactus League play. Valverde spent time in the Valley after his wife, Luisa, delivered the couple’s first child.
“Jose didn’t have his best command at times, but we got to stretch him out,” Melvin said. “He’s probably back on schedule.” …
Arizona blew a 6-1 lead in the loss to the Brewers, and Melvin said focus — or lack of it — was an issue.
“The first half of the game was good,” Melvin said. “Then, we didn’t execute and gave them some outs. We missed some signs, and if you don’t get those things right, you lose. But that’s what spring training is for, and we’ll address those things.”
What: The second of five spring meetings between National League West rivals Arizona and San Diego takes place at 1:05 p.m. today at Tucson Electric Park.
TV/Radio: KTAR (620 AM)
Pitchers: D-Backs — Evan MacLane, Greg Smith, D.J. Carrasco, Jailen Peguero, Casey Daigle, Jeff Bajenaru. Padres — Clay Hensley
Records: D-Backs: 6-5. Padres: 5-6
AT A GLANCE
Brewers 9, D-Backs 8
Notable pitching: One fifth-starter candidate, Dana Eveland, was effective, allowing four hits and an earned run in three innings. Another candidate was not, as Enrique Gonzalez gave up nine hits and seven runs (six earned) in 2 1/3 innings. Closer Jose Valverde allowed a hit in 1 2/3 innings.
Notable hitting: Homering were Alberto Callaspo, Scott Hairston — it was his team-high third of the spring — and Chad Tracy. Callaspo went 3-for-4, and Hairston, Eric Byrnes and Stephen Drew had two hits apiece.