Vintage outing turned in by Johnson

Johnson turns in vintage performance

DENVER -- Except for the fact it lasted just six innings, it was a vintage Randy Johnson performance Tuesday night.

Johnson held the Rockies to just one hit -- a fourth inning bunt single by Willy Taveras -- over six innings as the D-backs beat the Rockies, 3-0, in front of 20,178 at Coors Field.

In picking up his first win of the year, Johnson fanned nine, did not walk a batter and had the coaching staff thrilled by his ability to dominate with a fastball that spent most of the night in the low 90s. Velocity didn't matter as the Big Unit had good command of all his pitches and had his sharp slider working to perfection.

"For the most part I felt in command, and that's the biggest thing," Johnson said. "Whether you have good stuff, or getting by kind of stuff, you've got to get ahead, especially at this ballpark."

Beating the Rockies is something Johnson knows plenty about. Tuesday's performance gave him a 15-7 career mark against the Rockies to go with a 2.27 ERA.

Johnson was efficient with his pitches. He threw just 79 through six innings when D-backs manager Bob Melvin elected to take the veteran out.

In his last start, Johnson had a shutout through six before loading the bases in the seventh. Reliever Brandon Medders came on for him in that one and gave up a pinch-hit grand slam to Ryan Howard that gave Johnson a loss.

So why the quick hook this time?

"I just felt like it was time," Melvin said. "I wanted to get him out where we didn't have to take him out in the middle of a jam. We had a full complement in the bullpen tonight."

It was just Johnson's fifth start this year as the 43-year-old attempts to come back from last October's back surgery. He didn't say anything about his back being stiff, but a couple of Rockies players said they thought he looked a little stiff walking on and off the field.

Johnson did not accompany the team to Houston last weekend, a decision that Melvin said was his and that it was made to be "proactive" against Johnson's back getting stiff on the 2 hour, 20 minute flight from Phoenix to Houston.

Johnson said he wouldn't make missing road series that he's not pitching in a "routine by any means." When it came to why he only went six innings Tuesday, Johnson brushed off questions about whether his back was stiff.

"It's only my fifth start of the season -- why push it, you know?" Johnson said. "I'm just hitting my stride. To think that I'm 100 percent right now is far from the case. I'm getting there, absolutely, and the results indicate that, but let me work into that. I don't need to go seven innings every time, or eight or nine. There'll be nights where I'll need to do that, but tonight wasn't a night. It's too early in the year and I'm getting to where I want to be, and I want to walk away from something feeling positive."

Melvin did mention that Johnson's back was a bit stiff and the weather conditions didn't help matters. The game time temperature was 57 degrees and it got colder and windier as the night wore on.

"He was stiffening up just a little bit," Melvin said. "He certainly did his job and pitched phenomenally again. I just kind of sensed that to an extent. Early on I don't think he was real loose to start, then he started to get a little bit looser."

First baseman Conor Jackson provided all the offense the D-backs would need with his two-run homer in the sixth off Jason Hirsh.

It's been a struggle for Jackson at the plate this year, as evidenced by the fact that the blast was his first of the year, and more incredibly, it was his first RBI since April 18.

"I'm trying to bottle that up in my head right now," Jackson said of how it felt to hit the homer. "It's good to get the monkey off my back."

Said Melvin, "[Jackson] stayed on a changeup that was up a little bit. [He] had another hit, so hopefully confidence-wise it's a nice start for him."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.