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Big Unit willing to return as reliever

Big Unit willing to return as reliever

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Randy Johnson pitches again for the Giants this season, it'll likely be as a reliever.

Johnson, who has been rehabilitating his strained left shoulder near his Phoenix-area home, visited AT&T Park on Sunday -- as 20,000 fans received bobblehead dolls with his likeness -- and acknowledged that the regular season's remaining month probably doesn't afford him enough time to regain the stamina to start.

"Starting, obviously, is out for right now. Because I've been out for two months," said Johnson, who last pitched on July 5.

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But Johnson hopes to be able to resume throwing off a mound in two weeks. Should he meet that goal, he'd be eager to pitch out of the bullpen, where the Giants could use left-handed depth behind Jeremy Affeldt and Alex Hinshaw.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy welcomed the prospect of having Johnson available -- not only in the bullpen, but also in the clubhouse to share his vast pennant-race experience and provide a steadying influence.

"He's been through everything," said Bochy, who didn't completely rule out the possibility of Johnson starting a game toward the end of the season. "He's good for these pitchers. He's good for this ballclub."

Johnson, who was 8-6 with a 4.81 ERA in 17 starts before being sidelined, reminded reporters that helping the Giants reach the postseason was his stated priority since he signed with them.

"It wasn't about 300," Johnson said, referring to the career-victory milestone he reached on June 4. "The team is right on the doorstep of doing what this franchise wants to do. I want to be a part of it in whatever capacity."

Johnson, who turns 46 on Sept. 10, declined to say whether his physical condition would hasten his decision on retirement.

"One day at a time," Johnson said.

In recent weeks, Johnson has gradually reacclimated himself to throwing by tossing a tennis ball, then a softball, three days a week. Last Wednesday he switched to a baseball, throwing for 10 minutes at a 70-foot distance. Friday, he increased that to 13 minutes at 90 feet.

Johnson plans to throw again Tuesday and Wednesday from 90 to 100 feet, and said that he'll try pitching from the base of a mound if all goes well. Barring physical setbacks, he'll rejoin the Giants when they return home during the week of Sept. 7 and throw in the bullpen before pitching a simulated game or two.

"It would be well worth it if I could pitch to a couple of batters and get a couple more outs," Johnson said.

Chris Haft 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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