Mariners’ Johnson feeling pretty hip

PEORIA, Ariz. _ About 31/2 hours northwest of here, an Elvis tribute artist swivels his hips and melts the hearts of 70-year-old women during a two-hour show in Laughlin.

Down in Peoria, Rob Johnson can do a similar thing for the trainers and coaches who’ve been watching him work out at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex. Well, without the sideburns, hairy chest and jumpsuit.

Johnson is the Mariners’ starting catcher, not an Elvis wannabe. But if he really wanted to gyrate those hips, he can do it now.

It has been nearly four months since Johnson had the first of two operations to repair damaged cartilage and remove bone chips from each hip. Through a winter of recovery and rehab, Johnson has what he hasn’t experienced in a long, long time — flexibility and a lack of pain.

“It’s 100 percent different, 100 percent better, the fluidity in the way my hip joints are moving,” he said.

With the first official spring training workout on Feb. 17, Johnson can’t wait to show the Mariners how much he has improved. He has been running, throwing and hitting without pain, and next week will begin catching bullpen sessions by some of the pitchers already here working on their own.

What’s the big deal with a little hip pain?

First, this wasn’t a little pain. Johnson hurt so badly last season that he struggled to get down in his crouch.

Second, as a catcher his hips may take more abuse than any other player because of the movement in and out of the crouch for close to 200 pitches a game. And that doesn’t include all the times he must shift and slide to block pitches in the dirt.

“Very few people knew what he was going through,” Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “He had a hard time getting down into his (catching) stance and he had very restricted motion laterally. It was hard for him to block balls, hard for him to bend forward. He had lost range of motion to the point where he just couldn’t do things.”

Johnson had surgery Oct. 16 on his right hip and a similar procedure two weeks later on the left hip. He also had an operation on his left (non-throwing) wrist to remove bone chips.

He has put himself through intense workouts since, aiming to be at full strength when spring training begins. The Mariners will be cautious because the goal is to have Johnson ready by opening day April 5 and not wear him down early in camp.

“I did some drills when I was up in Seattle last week for FanFest, going from my catching stance down to blocking,” he said. “Am I firing on all cylinders now? No, but I do expect to be very soon.”

Griffin knows he and manager Don Wakamatsu will have to hold Johnson back from trying too hard, too soon when spring training begins.

“He’s from Montana and he’ll come out thinking he’s a cowboy,” Griffin said. “Wak has talked to him and I’ve talked to him.”

Nobody should worry, Johnson said.

“I know my body pretty well and if something isn’t feeling quite right, I’m not going to push myself through it like I did in the past,” he said.

But he does expect to surprise a lot of people who’ll see him for the first time when spring training begins.

“I can almost guarantee it,” Johnson said. “One will be when I’m running. The other will be hitting. I worked all year last year on getting my lower half involved (in the swing) and moving my hips. But my hips wouldn’t do it because there was bone in the way.”

Now, he feels like a new guy without the bone-on-bone contact that gave him great pain and limited his movement. Before the surgery, Johnson said he never realized he’d feel this good, this soon.

“The thing I would compare it to is when I was in seventh grade and I couldn’t see the chalkboard very well in school,” he said. “I had to squint to see it. My mom said, ‘Let’s have your eyes checked and see if you need some contacts.’ I got those and I could see every single pebble in the street and all the leaves on the trees. I remember thinking, ‘This is normal? This is what everybody else sees?’

“That’s how I feel now.”

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariner at

Talk to us

More in Sports

Marysville Pilchuck’s Dominik Kendrick (9) runs with the ball during a football game between Marysville Pilchuck and Stanwood at Marysville Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Marysville Pilchuck takes the win, 36-7. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Marysville Pilchuck proud of 4-0 start, but has loftier goals

The Tomahawks aren’t listening to the outside noise, including a No. 1 WIAA RPI ranking, as a tough stretch lies ahead.

Stanwood players react to their coach bringing them the Stilly Cup on Sept. 30, 2022 in Arlington. The Spartans snapped a 12-game losing streak in the rivalry matchup last year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
4 games to watch in Week 5 of the prep football season

An in-depth look at the best games the area has to offer, plus a full schedule of the local action in Week 5.

Prep roundup for Thursday, Sept. 28

Prep roundup for Thursday, Sept. 28: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Stanwood's Michael Mascotti relays the next play to his teammates during football practice on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022 in Stanwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Game picks for Week 5 of the prep football season

Find out which teams the experts and readers pick to win in Week 5.

Angel of the Winds Arena stands ready and waiting Friday afternoon for Kraken fans to arrive for the preseason game against the Edmondton Oilers. (Jake Goldstein-Street / The Herald)
Patterson: After past fails, can arena football thrive in Everett?

The turbulent past of arena football in the city stems from the opening of the Everett Events Center, now Angel of the Winds Arena, in 2003.

Hall of Fame inductee Gina Carbonatto accepts her award during the 2023 Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame Banquet on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
GALLERY: 2023 Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame banquet

A look at Wednesday’s ceremony honoring some of the most decorated sports figures in the area.

Sultan’s Derek Feltner tries to stay upright after picking up an offensive fumble and getting a few yards against Granite Falls on Friday, Sep. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School in Sultan, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Week 5 prep football leaderboard

A look at the area’s top passers, rushers and receivers through four weeks of the season.

Everett's Max Soterakopoulos points to his name on the leaderboard after winning his division the Regional Qualifier for Drive, Chip and Putt, held last Saturday at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place. (Photo coutesy of Chris Soterakopoulos)
Community roundup: Everett youth golfer headed to The Masters

Plus, Mill Creek Country Club’s Val Patrick honored by LPGA, updates on local NFL players, and more.

Prep roundup for Wednesday, Sept. 27

Prep roundup for Wednesday, Sept. 27: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Most Read