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TAMPA (AP) – Josh Johnson has experienced plenty of frustration over the past few years, having dealt with season-ending injuries in 2010 and 2011 and a rough start to 2012.
Now, he’s seemed to recapture the form that had the Miami Marlins believing he’d be their ace for years to come.
The right-hander looks to continue his interleague dominance in Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays, one day after visiting Miami ended an eight-game skid against its intrastate rival.
After outstanding 2009 and 2010 seasons, Johnson was shut down in September 2010 with back and shoulder discomfort, then went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in nine starts last year before right shoulder inflammation sidelined him in May.
Johnson (4-4, 4.27 ERA) went 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA over his first six outings of 2012, but he’s put his frustrating start behind him. He improved to 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA over his last seven starts after allowing one run and four hits in seven innings of a 4-1 win over Boston on Monday.
“I finally calmed down and made pitches when I needed to,” Johnson told the team’s official website. “I was throwing all my pitches for strikes, throwing pretty well. I just have to take it to the next bullpen (session) and take it to the next start.”
His performance against the Red Sox was simply a continuation of an outstanding interleague track record. Johnson is 6-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his last eight starts versus the AL – allowing a combined four runs over his last five – and hasn’t lost one since June 23, 2007.
Johnson is 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA in five career starts against the Rays, though he hasn’t faced them since allowing one run in eight innings of a 4-1 victory June 20, 2010.
His win Monday is one of only two victories for the Marlins (33-32) over their last 11 contests, though they ended their long skid against the Rays with a 4-3 win in 15 innings Saturday.
“A big game for us,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Every time you play a game like that, 14, 15, 16 innings and you come out winning, people come out of the ballpark very excited and ready for the next day.”
Scott Cousins drove home Justin Ruggiano with a triple in the deciding frame, and Health Bell converted his 11th straight save opportunity.
“I think it was a pretty big win,” Bell said. “It could be a turning point for us.”
Tampa Bay (36-29) lost for the fourth time in five games as its Nos. 1-5 hitters went a combined 2 for 30 with eight strikeouts, though manager Joe Maddon didn’t read too much into the loss.
“I thought we were very unfortunate,” Maddon said. “I thought we played it hard to the very end and they just beat us. I’m not displeased with anything.”
The Rays will send the struggling Alex Cobb to the mound hoping to get back on track.
Since winning his first two starts while posting a 2.25 ERA, Cobb (2-3, 4.70) has lost three straight with a 6.27 ERA, allowing at least four runs in each. Cobb gave up six runs in 6 2-3 innings of an 11-2 loss to the New York Mets on Tuesday, leaving him wondering what he needs to do to improve.
“The last three outings I’ve felt great,” Cobb said. “It’s just the results aren’t showing right now.”
The right-hander was solid in his only start against the Marlins, giving up two runs and three hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 7-4 win last June 18.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)