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Josh Johnson Needs a Nickname

Annie Savoy, the greatest baseball annie of them all, was introduced to Ebby Calvin LaLoosh and immediately told him, “Honey, you need a nickname.”

I’ve been thinking the same thing about Josh Johnson.

The Florida right-hander led the National League in ERA last year – you knew that, right? – and in his first five starts of 2011 is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA. And that’s not his most impressive statistic.  

Johnson has allowed 13 hits in 34 innings – a microscopic rate of 3.4 hits per 9 innings. In three of his five starts he’s taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He hasn’t given up a hit in his first time through the batting order in any start this season.

He’s a major reason the Florida Marlins are 15-8, despite an offense that scores a league-average 4.3 runs per game. In the 10 games started by Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, the Marlins are 8-2; they’re 7-6 in games started by everyone else. 

Johnson has added a curveball to his already effective arsenal this year, and the result is one of the best starts we’ve seen from a pitcher in years. 

Manager Edwin Rodriguez has been fairly conservative with Johnson’s pitch counts so far, having him work just six or seven innings, taking him out when his count approaches 100. The only pitches he’s thrown in the eighth inning came when he had a no-hitter through seven against Atlanta on April 13; as soon as he gave up a hit, Rodriguez took him out.

Johnson has a career won-lost record of 48-22, an ERA of 3.00, a strikeout/walk ratio of nearly 3:1. So why doesn’t he get more attention?

I think it’s the name.

Josh Johnson’s a good name for the nerdy kid who sat next to you in chem lab, who never gets in trouble and never stands out in any way. It’s boyish and earnest and more than a little dull.

That’s definitely not the case with his rivals for National League supremacy. Consider: Roy “Doc” Halladay; Adam Wainwright; Ubaldo Jimenez; Tim Lincecum; Mat Latos; Cole Hamels; Roy Oswalt. Distinctive names all. 

Even his teammates in the starting rotation have more memorable monikers: Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vazquez, and Chris Volstad.

Honey, you need a nickname.

At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, he’s got the size to carry a name like Hulk or Moose; heck, he’s bigger than Dick Radatz, the 1960s Boston relief pitcher who was known as “the Monster.” Walter Johnson, who stood 6-1 and weighed 200 pounds, was called “The Big Train”; maybe we could name him for an oversized vehicle of more recent vintage and call him Hummer Johnson. Another Johnson, Randy, became "The Big Unit." Maybe this particular Marlin should be known as "The Big Fish."

Or maybe the answer is simpler. The Johnson part is ok; there have been over a hundred other Johnsons in major league history. But “Josh” is itself a nickname.   His full first name is “Joshua.” Joshua Johnson is a much stronger name, one that carries biblical weight and echoes of conquest. 

Can’t you just see Joshua Johnson scowling down from the mound, while Marlins fans blow horns like Joshua’s army at the walls of Jericho? Joshua Johnson is a name befitting the pitcher Josh Johnson has become. Joshua Johnson is the kind of pitcher who can lead a team to the promised land to stay.

So be it. Or as they say in Hebrew, amen.

Jeff Neuman's columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @NeumanJeff. His collected golf writing and blogging can be found at www.neumanprose.com.

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