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Johnson ready for fresh start with Giants in 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — With two recent back surgeries behind him, Randy Johnson is refreshed and focused on being a baseball player again this winter — rather than a pitcher limited to rigorous rehabilitation work, his case the past two offseasons.

The 45-year-old Big Unit has been playing catch for three weeks already — and, now, is busy preparing to join his new San Francisco Giants teammates come the start of spring training in February.

Johnson and San Francisco agreed to an $8 million, one-year contract Friday, giving the Giants one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball with three Cy Young Award winners. Johnson has won five Cy Youngs and is five victories away from No. 300.

“I’m well ahead of schedule than I was the last two offseasons,” Johnson said Saturday during a conference call, noting he plans to be on the 2009 opening day roster. “It will be really nice to be in that position this year. ... To some degree I have silenced the critics and shown that I’m healthy.”

The Giants are counting on that.

Johnson joins fellow Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum (2008) and Barry Zito (2002) in an intriguing rotation that also features promising right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Jonathan Sanchez. San Francisco becomes the first team with three Cy Young recipients since the 2002 Atlanta Braves with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean believes his club could become a contender again in the NL West with the addition of Johnson. San Francisco expressed an interest in him from the start of free agency and had several productive conversations with his representatives to make it happen.

Johnson wanted to stay on the West Coast, and in the NL West if possible, to start his 22nd major league season. The Giants will be his sixth big league team.

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