DENVER -- Randy Johnson's back.
And for the first time since he underwent back surgery in October, those three words were said of the 43-year-old lefty, who pitched his best game of the season, allowing one hit over six innings in the Arizona Diamondbacks' 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on a cold, overcast Tuesday night.
For the second consecutive start, Johnson (1-2) looked like the Big Unit who won five Cy Young awards. Johnson struck out nine and walked none in winning for the first time since his return to Arizona after two frustrating seasons with the New York Yankees.
"I feel like I'm starting to hit my stride," Johnson said. "Things are starting to come around."
Johnson's slider was working well and he threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 18 batters he faced in oudueling Jason Hirsh, who also had his best performance of the season.
"For the most part, I felt in command and that's the biggest thing," Johnson said. "Whether you got good stuff or getting-by kind of stuff, you've just got to get ahead, especially at this ballpark."
Johnson retired the first nine hitters before Willy Taveras bunted his way aboard leading off the fourth, which led to his only bad throw of the night.
Johnson fielded the ball, spun around and tossed it halfway between the plate and first base. It skidded into the fence in front of the Rockies' dugout.
"He was going to be safe, and I didn't mean to throw it," Johnson said. "It just slipped out of my hand."
It mattered little when Johnson picked him off first base one out later.
In his previous start, against Philadelphia, Johnson threw six strong innings before falling apart in the seventh. This time, he didn't hit that wall because he didn't come out for the seventh, calling it a night after 79 pitches on a crisp evening and giving way to right-hander Tony Pena.
Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin had said before the game he was comfortable with a pitch count around 100 for Johnson, but he changed his mind after watching him work six spectacular innings.
"I wanted to get him out where we didn't have to take him out in the middle of a jam," Melvin said. "We had a full compliment of bullpen tonight."
Johnson didn't mind the quick hook, either.
"This is only my fifth start in the season, why push it?" he said. "I'm just hitting my stride. To think I'm 100 percent now is far from the case. I'm getting there, absolutely, and the results indicate that. But let me work into that. I don't need to go seven innings all the time or eight or nine.
"There will be nights where I need to do that, but tonight wasn't a night. It's too early in the year and I'm getting to where I want to be and I want to walk away from something feeling positive."
Hirsh (2-4) also walked away feeling good about himself after allowing three earned runs and seven hits in eight innings, walking none and striking out four.
He surrendered two bloop singles in the first inning but retired 14 consecutive batters until Chris Young's single with one out in the sixth. Conor Jackson, the next batter, sent a belt-high high changeup down the left field line for his first home run since last October.
Eric Byrnes made it 3-0 when he led off the seventh with his sixth homer.
"It was a very encouraging start for me," Hirsh said. "It ended up being two bad mistakes today that lost the game. Under normal circumstances, I'm not facing Randy Johnson and we score some runs, and it ends up a lot closer than tonight did."
Rockies slugger Todd Helton said Johnson didn't look like he did before his two-year stint in the American League -- he looked better.
"He looks like a smarter Randy Johnson than before. He was conserving energy and when he had to make a pitch, he made a pitch. He didn't walk anybody and he threw the ball extremely well," Helton said. "He had better command, but he is still throwing the ball pretty hard. He was impressive, coming back from whatever surgery he had."
Not that he's going to pull a Roger Clemens and show up only on the nights he's scheduled to pitch, but Johnson said he benefited from skipping the team's trip to Houston so he could stay in Phoenix and work out.
"I'd like to think that my trainer made me feel a little better than I may have felt with an off day here yesterday," Johnson said. "I won't make it a routine by any means, but it's still early in the year."
- D-Backs 3B Chad Tracy aggravated his pulled rib muscles in his first start since getting hurt Saturday.
- For the first time since July 5, 2005, no walks were issued in a game at Coors Field.