Faces of Marlins thrilled to represent
More All-Star trips in sight for dynamic duo of JJ, Hanley
ANAHEIM -- The mere speculation that Josh Johnson was a leading candidate to start for the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game was an honor for the Marlins right-hander. But his surprise level was low -- and so was his disappointment -- when the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez was given the nod by NL manager Charlie Manuel on Monday morning.
"That's a great honor," Johnson said of being touted as a candidate. "I said Jimenez from the beginning. That was my choice. If I got called on, I'd be happy to do it. We're going out there as a team right now. We're going out there as the National League. We want to get home-field advantage for whoever is in the World Series, and we want to stop this 12-game losing streak or whatever it is. That's what we want to do. Stop the streak."
Unlike last year, when his pitching schedule before the break dictated that he couldn't pitch in the game, Johnson is looking forward to getting some work in his second All-Star appearance.
And Johnson is once again sharing the spotlight with his superstar teammate and third-time All-Star Hanley Ramirez.
This is the second straight season the Marlins are represented at the Midsummer Classic by two of the top young talents in the game. Ramirez and Johnson -- both 26-years-old -- are the faces of the franchise.
Ramirez was in a cheerful mood as he held court with the media holding his young son on his lap.
"It's an honor for the third year in a row to represent the Marlins and the National League and all the Florida fans and to be with all these guys, the greatest players right now," Ramirez said. "I'm just really happy to be here today."
Both Ramirez and Johnson are linked to long-term contracts, and project to be the centerpieces of the organization once they move into their new retractable-roof stadium in 2012.
For Ramirez, this will be his third straight season starting as the NL shortstop. It's the longest consecutive streak of starts by a Senior Circuit shortstop since Ozzie Smith was locked into the position from 1983-92.
Though Ramirez is now an established superstar, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz remembers the glimpses of his greatness five years ago. Back then, Ramirez was the top positional prospect for the Boston Red Sox, only later to be traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
"When Hanley came up with us in Boston, I remember watching him play in the All-Star Futures Game [in Detroit in 2005]," Ortiz said. "I saw him making a hell of a play and hitting a ball against the wall. After the game, we talked and I was like, 'Man, you're ready to be here.' Next thing you know, look at who's my boy now?"
The NL batting champion with a .342 average a year ago, Ramirez hasn't enjoyed a vintage season by his standards. His average hovered below .300 much of the season, although he has shown his typical power in the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
But in Johnson's estimation, his teammate is still a force to be reckoned with.
"I've seen him do incredible things," Johnson said. "He'll sit there and pull a ball down the left-field line or the upper deck or put a ball down the right-field line in his next at-bat -- just those things. And he'll steal bags and make diving plays. It's unbelievable what he does."
It's clear that Ramirez and Johnson have a bit of a mutual admiration society.
"JJ, I'm so glad I've got him on my side," Ramirez said. "He knows how to pitch. Like I said, we have pitching this year -- a good pitching staff in the National League. We have [Roy] Halladay on our side now, so we don't have to face him anymore. We just have to score earlier."
One of the most enjoyable things about this year's All-Star experience for Johnson is getting a chance to spend time with some of the other top young arms in the game, including Jimenez and Halladay.
"You hear all about their work ethic and everything," said Johnson. "That's what you admire is that with those guys, what you hear about off the field is them working hard, not anything else. They're going out and waking up at 6:30 or 7:30 and going out there running and it makes you want to do the same thing. It makes you say, 'I want to get better.' I want to make sure I'm ready for my next game. So I'm going to wake up and do the work, too."
Ramirez is the only player in Marlins history to be voted into the starting lineup more than once.
Just like in his previous two All-Star Games, Ramirez will bat leadoff. He was 2-for-6 the past two years.
Johnson, meanwhile, has posted the best first half by a Marlin since Dontrelle Willis went 9-1 as a rookie in 2003. The D-Train's ERA at the break was 2.08.
In 122 innings pitched, the 6-foot-7 right-hander has struck out 123, which is second to Tim Lincecum (131). Adam Wainwright also has 123.
Not only has Johnson dominated the NL, he has overpowered the American League as well. In three Interleague starts, he is 2-0 with an 0.86 ERA, including a win over Tampa Bay's All-Star lefty and AL starter David Price.
The hard-throwing right-hander from Oklahoma recently placed his name alongside Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. JJ had a string of eight straight starts of allowing one or fewer earned runs. In 1968, Gibson ran off 11 in a row.
In MLB history, the eight consecutive by Johnson tied J.R. Richard (1979) and was two behind Jack Coombs (1910).
Low-keyed by nature, Johnson has pitched under the radar for years. Yet, his reputation is growing as one of the top right-handers in the game.
"It's a nice compliment. I'll definitely take it," said the 26-year-old. "But you can't be satisfied with it."
Since he will have last pitched on Wednesday at the Dodgers, Johnson will be going on six days' rest. So he should be ready and strong to throw as many innings as Manuel needs from him on Tuesday.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Joe Frisaro, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.