Updated: September 25, 2008, 2:02 PM ET

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AP Photo/Tom Gannam

Josh Johnson is setting himself up to be a very valuable fantasy pitcher in 2009.

Johnson finishes with flourish
Florida right-hander Josh Johnson finished his comeback season with a 7-1 record after tossing six innings of two-run ball against the Nationals on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old Johnson broke out with a 3.10 ERA over 157 innings in 2006, then missed nearly all of 2007 with arm trouble that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. His recovery from the surgery was a remarkably rapid 11 months, and the early post-surgery returns are excellent.

A fourth-round pick in 2002, Johnson moved through the minors quickly, earning a reputation as a ground-baller with decent control who misses enough bats to be successful even without stellar infield defense behind him. Johnson offers a mid-90s sinking fastball without great movement. He also uses a slider, but his changeup and ability to alter speeds is a currently a greater weapon than his breaking ball.

Johnson owns a career 3.42 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 202 minor league innings. During the course of his career on the farm, he struck out 7.41 batters per nine innings while issuing 3.13 walks per nine. Johnson had a 12 1/3-inning cup of coffee in 2005, but reached the majors for good in 2006. That season, Johnson demonstrated skills not unlike the ones on display throughout his minor league career. He ended the season with 7.62 strikeouts and 3.9 walks per nine innings.

Johnson has taken his game to another level in 2008. He continues to show a strong ground-ball rate and limits homers too. This year, however, his control has improved to 2.8 walks per nine innings, and his strikeout rate is all the way up to 8.3. He's missing more bats and putting fewer people on base. A 34 percent hit rate prevented him from talking a big step forward in WHIP despite the improved control, but the seeds of No. 2 starterdom are starting to show.

In 13 starts, Johnson allowed more than three runs just twice despite facing the capable offenses of the Cubs, Mets and Phillies seven times. The performance is especially impressive considering his major league inexperience, a lost season of development and the super-quick recovery from surgery.

Johnson is owned in just 65 percent of ESPN leagues, but he's made legitimate strides this year, and at age 24 he looks like a future fixture on mixed-league rosters.

Past editions: 9/24: Zack attack | 9/23: Price is right | 9/22: Yankee Stadium finale

Box Score Bits
Nick Blackburn allowed just two runs despite struggling for five innings, and the Twins' bullpen pitched four one-hit frames to pull Minnesota within a half game of the American League Central Division-leading White Sox. Mark Buehrle pitched seven effective innings in defeat for Chicago. ... Bobby Abreu hit his 20th home run, a 10th-inning grand slam, in a win over Toronto to return to the 20-20 club for the first time since 2005. Derek Jeter missed the game with a hand injury; he could return Thursday. Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon were also held out of action. Both Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett pitched eight strong innings. ... David DeJesus left the Royals' win over Detroit in the first inning with tightness in his hip flexor. Brian Bannister tossed six scoreless innings for the win. ... J.D. Drew returned to the lineup for the first time in a month, going 1-for-2 with a run scored, as Boston battered Cleveland right-hander Fausto Carmona for four first-inning runs and held on for a 5-4 win. With Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima resting, Manny Delcarmen pitched the ninth for his second save. Delcarmen has been just as effective as Okajima this year, and the two make a formidable late-inning bridge to one of baseball's top closers. ... Tampa Bay fell behind 6-0 in the second frame, but Edwin Jackson settled down to pitch into the sixth inning and the Rays scored 11 unanswered runs to win 11-6. Tampa closer Troy Percival missed his third straight game with back trouble, but did rejoin the team Wednesday. ... Hank Blalock homered for the fourth straight game. The Rangers' first baseman is batting .354 BA/.407 OBP/.707 SLG in September and for the second straight year is putting up a monster finish to an injury-plagued campaign. Rookie Matt Harrison logged his ninth win in the 14-4 victory over the A's. ... Reds first baseman Joey Votto collected his sixth multihit game in seven tries, but the Astros prevailed behind 6 2/3 shutout innings from Randy Wolf. ... CC Sabathia continues to amaze, striking out 11 Pirates on three days' rest in a 4-2 Milwaukee win that kept the Brewers in the thick of the wild-card race. Salomon Torres finished for his 28th save. ... The Marlins were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday, but they flashed a glimpse of the future Wednesday when rookies Gaby Sanchez and Cameron Maybin collected three hits apiece in the 9-4 win. Nationals infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Cristian Guzman each missed the game with flu-like symptoms. ... Brett Myers was chased in the fifth as the Braves downed Philadelphia 10-4. Atlanta center fielder Josh Anderson stole his ninth base in 122 at-bats. ... The Mets reached Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano for five runs in the third inning, but New York left-hander Oliver Perez couldn't hold the lead and the Cubs went on to win 9-6 in the 10th. Carlos Delgado continued his monster second half with a grand slam off Zambrano, Delgado's 38th home run of the year. ... The Angels managed 13 hits off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez to hand the Mariners their 100th loss. Francisco Rodriguez notched his 62nd save, and Angels catcher Mike Napoli -- who has slugged .553 with 19 home runs this year while sharing time with Jeff Mathis -- stole his seventh base in just 220 at-bats. ... Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez failed to finish the fourth inning for the second consecutive start, allowing seven earned runs against the Rockies. Kevin Correia spiked his season ERA by a half-run by surrendering seven more runs in two innings of relief. ... Dodgers rookie lefty Clayton Kershaw evened his record at 5-5 with a seven-strikeout performance against the Padres. Shortstop Rafael Furcal pinch-hit in his first action since May 5, while Jeff Kent played for the first time since Aug. 29. ... Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds struck out for the 199th time this year, tying the major league record set last season by Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. The Diamondbacks fell to St. Louis 4-2 as Adam Wainwright moved to 11-3.


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Standing Out
MANNY BEING MANNY
Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
He went 2-for-4 with his 17th homer since being traded to L.A., as the Dodgers clinched a tie for the NL West title. Ramirez's line since joining the Dodgers: .398, 17 HRs, 53 RBIs, 1.248 OPS in just 181 at-bats.

REDDING ROCKED
Tim Redding, Nationals
A moderate fantasy surprise for much of the season, Redding was roughed up for seven runs and seven hits in just 2 1/3 innings against the Marlins. Redding is 0-3 with an 11.57 ERA in his final three starts of the season.
News and Notes

After a subpar four-inning performance Tuesday, Javier Vazquez might pitch on short rest Saturday when the White Sox take on Cleveland. ... Due to a sore shoulder, Andy Pettitte will not make his Saturday start. The left-hander is done for the year, and will be replaced by Sidney Ponson in the rotation. ... Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie pitched a simulated game Wednesday and is scheduled to start the final game of the season on Sunday. ... Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter met with a specialist Wednesday. The former Cy Young winner has a compressed nerve in his shoulder, but is still undecided on a course of treatment. ... Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, out since May with a knee injury that required surgery, will start Thursday in his return to the rotation. Injured ace Ben Sheets played catch and hopes to start Saturday's game, though his status won't be determined until then. ... In his column for The Sporting News, Tigers reliever Todd Jones said he plans to announce his retirement after this season. "If you're a Tigers fan, I'll never stress you out again. If you're not a Tigers fan, you'll never have me as your ace in the hole, convinced I'll blow a lead against your team," Jones wrote. Jones, on the DL since August, was 4-1 with a 4.97 ERA and 18 saves in 21 chances this year. He finishes with 319 career saves, including a team-record 235 for the Tigers.
They Wrote It

"Ask any observant general manager and he would put [Joe] Mauer in the top five players in the American League because of his position, his athleticism, his unselfishness and skill, far beyond the possibility of being a two-time batting champion at age 25 and no matter what his home run totals may read. That the Twins are fighting for the playoffs on the final weekend is testament to their organizational philosophy (not to mention that Ron Gardenhire is one of his generation's most underappreciated managers), but it wouldn't have happened without Mauer as the franchise linchpin."

-- Peter Gammons Full story

"The key to the Mets' last week of the regular season is Johan Santana. We saw a great example of him taking care of business Tuesday night. If they had lost with him Tuesday night, I would've bet the Mets would miss the playoffs. However, since they won and Johan Santana will be pitching in the final game, you will definitely see the Mets play in the postseason. This time last year the Mets didn't have anyone close to Santana who could win a big game for sure. Plus, we all know the rest of the bullpen could use a lot of help right now."

-- Tim Kurkjian Baseball Tonight Clubhouse
Transactions

• The Mets activated John Maine from the 15-day disabled list. Maine had been out for nearly a month with a sore shoulder. Offseason surgery is still a possibility, and he'll work as a reliever for the remainder of the season.

• The Dodgers activated shortstop Rafael Furcal from the 60-day disabled list. After missing most of the season, Furcal isn't exactly in top game shape, but he could be a big contributor during the playoffs.

• The Dodgers also placed right-hander Brad Penny on the 60-day disabled list. Penny, who battled shoulder issues all year, made just two September appearances as a reliever after rejoining the team following his second DL stint. He's out for the postseason, and the possibility of offseason shoulder surgery clouds his 2009 outlook.