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Johnson to have MRI; Tankersley sore
Both hurlers will rest arms to prevent exacerbating problem
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- Josh Johnson is scheduled to have another MRI to help pinpoint exactly what has been plaguing his sore right arm.

Multiple sources have told MLB.com that the fear is it's a nerve-related ailment in his throwing elbow. And on Thursday, Johnson didn't rule out that he may indeed have a nerve issue.

"It could be a nerve," the 23-year-old Marlins starter said. "It's possible.

"I'm open-minded. I guess it could be anything. Whatever it is, as soon as I know what it is, we can figure out the easiest way to treat it. If it's a nerve, it will be a little bit tougher."

Johnson last had an MRI on Jan. 31. Based on previous test results, Johnson is confident he doesn't have ligament damage.

If it is nerve-related, Johnson could miss a significant part of the season. The 6-foot-7 starter says he was told by the team medical staff that his problem may be similar to that of former Marlins hurler Brad Penny.

Shortly after Penny was traded to the Dodgers in 2004, he went on the disabled list with a nerve problem in his biceps/elbow area. Penny missed more than two months.

"I really don't know very much about it," Johnson said.

Johnson's arm troubles started last Sept. 12 after he was sent back out to pitch after an 82-minute rain delay against the Mets. He left that game with soreness in his right forearm. The pain shifted to his biceps/triceps area in late January, when he experienced discomfort throwing off flat ground.

In Spring Training, Johnson twice threw off flat ground, experiencing discomfort after the second day. He has not thrown since.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez acknowledges it is doubtful Johnson would be ready for Opening Day.

Johnson is eager to find exactly what is going on so he can work on a more defined timetable to return.

"That's what we want to know right now -- what it is -- as quick as possible, so we can do what we have to do to make it better," Gonzalez said.

The Marlins are dealing with a couple of critical sore arms right now.

Lefty reliever Taylor Tankersley is in a five-to-seven day "no throw" schedule as he rests a shoulder inflammation.

Tankersley's status for Opening Day also is in question.

Gonzalez is more optimistic that Tankersley will be healthy, if not by the opener, then shortly after.

"He only needs six, seven, eight innings in the spring to get going," Gonzalez said. "He can still get that, with no problem."

Because the Marlins have young pitching depth, Gonzalez is confident the team can weather the setbacks to two of their most promising pitchers.

"We've got good depth here, that's why I'm not panicky," Gonzalez said. "We'll get something. We've got a lot of good stuff to choose from."

The strength of the organization is pitching depth throughout the Minor Leagues. Several of their top pitching prospects are in big-league camp, but they are expected to open the season in Class A Jupiter. In that group is Chris Volstad, Ryan Tucker, Sean West and Aaron Thompson.

Volstad is the most advanced of the foursome. The 20-year-old was the 16th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft in 2005.

"When you talk about that group, we haven't had a track record on that yet," general manager Admin Beinfest said. "I'm not sure we're in that mode, right now."

Also gaining attention is Gaby Hernandez, who turns 21 in May. Hernandez will open at Double-A Carolina.

The team is reluctant to bring any of them up before they have some Double-A experience.

"We have a lot of pitching here," Beinfest said. "We like the guys to have Double-A experience here. We feel that's our launching pad. If you look at our history, you can tell most of our guys are coming from Double-A to the big leagues. They're not coming from [low Class A] Greensboro or Jupiter."

In 2003, Dontrelle Willis made the leap from Double-A to the Major Leagues in May. And last year, Johnson and Scott Olsen were among the pitchers who were brought up after gaining Double-A experience.

With Tankersley out, Renyel Pinto is the primary lefty relief option in camp. Pinto is currently away from the team because he is seeing his newborn baby in Arizona.

Pinto returns to Jupiter on Friday and he will be available on Saturday.

"With Tank, it's early on, and we'll see how he feels," Beinfest said. "We're hopeful he will be ready."

Candidates in line for starting spots are Sergio Mitre, Wes Obermueller, Yusmeiro Petit, Jose Garcia and Chris George.

"They know. They're not dumb. They know what's going on, and J.J. might be a question," Gonzalez said. "They know there is an opening. I want them to go out and do what they can do, nothing more and nothing less. They've all been through enough camps and enough organizations to know what's at stake."

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

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