Mariners C Johnson hoping for healthy hips in spring training

PEORIA, Ariz. — If it was up to Rob Johnson, he wouldn't be limited in spring training.

But after a pair of hip surgeries in the offseason the Seattle Mariners aren't taking any chances with Johnson, who came into camp as the team's No. 1 catcher.

"I knew it was something I needed to do, because it got to the point where it was hurting pretty bad and I couldn't move the way I like to move," Johnson said. "I would definitely say I was nervous. I wouldn't say I was worried because baseball is what I do, it doesn't define who I am."

Safe to say, Johnson was in pain for quite some time before the operations. The 27-year-old split catching duties with Kenji Johjima last season for the Mariners, but Johjima is gone and Johnson is in place to take over, even though he had procedures to repair torn labrums on each hip not even a month apart last fall.

Johnson has caught bullpen sessions, taken batting practice and done his running and agility drills in camp. He's also working with Dr. Marcus Elliott, the Mariners' director of sports science and performance, and his staff at spring training on rehabilitation and gaining mobility in his hips.

"It was a big surgery," Elliott said. "It's two steps forward, one step back with him."

Johnson is eager to go full speed and acknowledges that having to slow down eats him up inside. But he realizes that taking time to ensure good health is critical.

The next step for Johnson is getting into game shape and testing his mobility as well as blocking balls in the dirt. He's confident in the strength in his hips and no longer feels pain.

"Getting out quick on a bunt and being able to spin and throw and not worry about my hip giving out," Johnson said. "When guys are throwing balls 90 miles an hour in the dirt, you need to block them. That's something that I need to get in my psyche that I can do again."

The Mariners want just that from their catcher — as well as a good rapport with the pitching staff.

"I'm a defensive-minded guy completely," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, it's about pitching and defense."

Offense would be a bonus. Johnson batted just .213 in 80 games last season and had more strikeouts (60) than hits (55).

"The biggest thing is watching him swing the bat," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "There's a noticeable difference in the freedom of his movement. It's just amazing to go through that type of surgery and be where he's at right now."

Wakamatsu expects Johnson, who spent his first full season in the majors last year, to be ready to start the season. He and Johnson had a discussion about Johnson's batting practice session Thursday, and coaches are working with Johnson on adjusting his catching stance to prevent a recurrence.

"You can see it in his face," Wakamatsu said. "Even during batting practice he hit a couple of balls out that he goes, 'I couldn't do that last year.' So that's a good sign."

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