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Johnson embraces new chance with Giants

Veteran pitcher figures to be healthy

By JANIE McCAULEY Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – With two recent back surgeries behind him, Randy Johnson is refreshed and focused on being a baseball player again this winter – rather than a pitcher limited to rigorous rehabilitation work, his case the past two off-seasons.

The 45-year-old Johnson has been playing catch for three weeks already – and, now, is busy preparing to join his new San Francisco Giants teammates come the start of spring training in February.

Johnson and San Francisco agreed to an $8 million, one-year contract Friday, giving the Giants one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball with three Cy Young Award winners. Johnson has won five Cy Youngs and is five victories away from No. 300.

“I’m well ahead of schedule than I was the last two off-seasons,” Johnson said Saturday during a conference call, noting he plans to be on the 2009 opening day roster. “It will be really nice to be in that position this year. … To some degree I have silenced the critics and shown that I’m healthy.”

The Giants are counting on that.

Johnson joins fellow Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum (2008) and Barry Zito (2002) in an intriguing rotation that also features promising right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Jonathan Sanchez. San Francisco becomes the first team with three Cy Young recipients since the 2002 Atlanta Braves with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean believes his club could become a contender again in the National League West with the addition of Johnson. San Francisco expressed an interest in him from the start of free agency and had several productive conversations with his representatives to make it happen.

Johnson wanted to stay on the West Coast, and in the N.L. West if possible, to start his 22nd major league season.

The Giants will be his sixth big-league team.

“During this process, there was a great deal of interest in me, and that leads me to believe there are some people who still believe in me,” Johnson said. “San Francisco was at the top of my list. I pitched against them three or four times last year and saw the potential they have.”

Still, the Giants haven’t reached the playoffs since 2003 and Sabean will continue looking to upgrade his offense. The tough part about that is there are more outfielders available than infielders, and the Giants need to fill out their infield.

Sabean figures that boosting the pitching staff with someone like Johnson could help compensate for a less-productive offense.

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