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06/28/07 11:54 PM ET

Johnson gets the short shift

Return from DL ends after three innings, but says back is fine

PHOENIX -- Randy Johnson's return from a herniated disk in his back did not last long.

The Dodgers jumped on him for four runs (three earned) in three innings before he left, having thrown 70 pitches in Los Angeles' 9-5 win in front of 26,526 at Chase Field, dropping Arizona out of first place in the National League West.

Afterward, Johnson said he physically felt fine, chalking up his poor performance mainly to execution and having not pitched in a big-league game in 18 days.

"I'm not going to get all worked up about it," said Johnson, who brushed aside questions about his back. "I pitched poorly, and I'll get my work in between now and my next start. I haven't pitched in a while, and I'm reaching for something, so there you go."

Johnson was none to pleased about a reporter asking if it's more rust than pain that caused him to miss his spots.

"It's a matter of the ball being right down the middle of the plate," Johnson said, laughing, in reference to a 434-foot Russell Martin home run on a pitch he threw right down the middle instead of elevating in the first inning. "I think that's pretty self-explanatory. What's causing it? Lack of execution."

"Are you digging for back?" Johnson asked. "No, lack of execution."

Johnson also gave up six hits, while recording a pair of walks and strikeouts. Manager Bob Melvin said the big left-hander's still expected to make his next start Tuesday in St. Louis.

"It wasn't as sharp as we've seen, but it's to be expected after being on the DL," Melvin said.

Earlier in the week, Johnson surprised Melvin with how well he threw in a simulated game, with Jeff DaVanon saying Johnson looked like where he left off after hitting against him on Monday. Then he didn't reach the fourth inning against Los Angeles, his shortest outing of the season by two innings.

"I think I threw better in that simulated game," Johnson said. "Maybe I should have grabbed a few of the Dodgers in that simulated game to actually evaluate how I was. Maybe I really wasn't that good."

Said catcher Chris Snyder, "There's a big difference in throwing a simulated game to our guys and then going out there and facing live hitters."

After Johnson threw the simulated game and felt fine the next day, Melvin fit Johnson into the rotation for Thursday's finale against the Dodgers, a series the manager called the biggest of the season for his club to date.

Unfortunately for Arizona, the Johnson who took the hill pitching for the division lead and a series split was a different pitcher than the one who posted a 4-0 record with a 1.52 ERA in his past five starts before the stint on the disabled list.

"The rhythm that I was in prior to going on the DL, you're on a roll," Johnson said, "and then the unforeseen comes in, you go on the DL and you haven't pitched in 18 days, and you know the situation, so I just try to overcome it and look forward to my next start in St. Louis. I've got some work ahead of me, and I realize that. Hopefully I'll pitch a little better my next start."

His counterpart, Randy Wolf (9-6), allowed three runs on four hits in six-plus innings. Takashi Saito stopped a ninth-inning rally to earn his 22nd save of the year after the D-backs put the tying run on deck with one out against Brett Tomko.

Johnson's short outing pushed an already over-worked bullpen to the breaking point. Five pitchers combined to pitch the final five innings.

After long man Dustin Nippert could get through only one, Doug Slaten pitched a season-high 1 1/3 innings after throwing in four games in five days and Tony Pena's "slim chance" of returning from a leg infection turned into an outing of 1 2/3 innings. To top it off, Sunday's projected starter, Micah Owings, tossed an inning on his day to throw in the bullpen and setup man Brandon Lyon was forced into duty in what was a 9-3 blowout at the time.

"It was concerning," Melvin said. "We obviously didn't want to do that, but you've got to do what you've got to do. It's been taxing on us the last few games."

Owings will still be on line for his Sunday start, with Edgar Gonzalez expected to be used in the bullpen Friday.

"It's tough when you've got to have a starter come in to fill in and give those guys a break," Snyder said. "Hopefully our starters can step up big in our next series and give these guys a rest."

Making matters tougher on the pitchers, Arizona committed a season-high four errors, including two Chris Young fielding errors in center. In the middle of the seventh inning, the D-backs had as many errors as hits.

Despite an all-around disappointing afternoon for Arizona, at the end of the day Snyder was optimistic Johnson would return to form.

"It's a stepping stone for him," Snyder said. "It's his first start back. He hasn't been out there in a while, he hasn't been stretched out.

"He'll be back."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.