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Thursday, March 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Finnigan
PEORIA, Ariz. After being gone for five days, Rett Johnson was back in the Mariners' camp yesterday morning.
Johnson, one of Seattle's top pitching prospects, left Friday, the day after he had a rough spring debut in the annual charity game against San Diego.
"It feels good to be back," Johnson said, in his soft South Carolina drawl. "It was tough to leave, but there was a personal issue I had to take care of. I really prefer not to say any more than that."
Mariners manager Bob Melvin, who gave Johnson permission to leave, called the youngster "a great kid. He took care of what he had to and we're glad he's back."
Melvin said Johnson will only play catch at first, then work through a bullpen session before getting back into games.
Pat Rice, coordinator of minor-league pitching, has known Johnson as he excelled and climbed through each level of the farm system, including a 5-2 record with a 2.15 earned-run average after a midseason promotion to Class AAA Tacoma last season.
"Rett's a super kid, but he's hard on himself," Rice said. "He wants to do well and obviously he was upset at the way that game had gone."
In the outing, Johnson threw only two strikes in 14 pitches, and threw several pitches so wide they went to the backstop.
"You work with kids and have to remember they're kids," Rice said. "It can be such a complex thing. Some speak their minds on whatever they feel or are thinking, some keep it in.
"Some guys have fragility of the mind ... some. Others are strong-minded. I've always felt and still feel Rett has all the tools, including the mentality, to make it."
"Last year definitely was a mechanical thing," Rice said. "As coaches we try to instill whatever it is that the kids need, but I think you'll find that most coaches developed a mental toughness in our playing days. We generally had everything but talent as players.
"So we have to make ourselves understand that not everyone is alike. They've all excelled at the game somewhere or they wouldn't be here in camp, but the game presents different challenges at different stages of a career, so we have to be aware of that as coaches, too."
Each of those who will watch and work with Johnson agreed on one thing, that the most important development was that he had returned to camp.
"The big thing he's here again so we can get to work," Rice said. "He's not the first who has ever left camp. We have others in our camp today who left and came back. I won't name them, but they're here and they're doing fine, as we expect Rett will."
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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