It was his first win since June 23rd, breaking a string of seven consecutive starts without one, but for Josh Johnson, it was much more important than simply breaking streaks.
This win was all about keeping his job.
After general manager Alex Anthopoulos announced earlier this week and said that Johnson was essentially “start to start”, the 29-year-old right-hander came out and pitched as if his job was on the line. Johnson threw five shutout innings while walking two and striking out five in the process, ending his night after 86 pitches and with his team up 6-0.
It was no small task for Johnson either. Not only did you know coming into the start that the pressure was officially on, but he was also opposing Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez. However, the Blue Jays stepped up for Josh Johnson right out of the gate, with Jose Reyes launching a home run on the first pitch thrown by Hernandez.
Johnson would need that ice breaker in the first. After getting Brad Miller to lead-off the game, Johnson then walked Nick Franklin and surrendered a single to Kyle Seager to set-up a first and third situation with one out. However, the 6-8 right-hander would escape unharmed by inducing Kendrys Morales into an inning-ending double play.
The second inning would be an improvement on the first. After striking out Raul Ibanez to start the frame, Johnson would again put himself into the stretch, but surrendering a soft single to Michael Morse. Still, he would get Justin Smoak swinging for the second out and forced Michael Saunders into a ground-out to end the inning. Johnson would follow that up with a quiet third inning, getting former Blue Jay Henry Blanco to ground out to third before striking out both Miller and Franklin.
After Toronto scored three runs in their half of the fourth, thanks to some shoddy Seattle defense, Johnson again faced a bit of a rocky inning. He would get Seager to line-out to Jose Bautista to start the frame, but then surrendered back-to-back singles to Morales and Ibanez. However, Johnson would again escape unscathed after getting awarded another double play ball, this one off the bat of Morse.
Johnson’s final inning was a microcosm of his entire night. He got the lead-off man Smoak on a fly-out to left field, but then walked Michael Saunders. After Henry Blanco popped-out to Reyes for the second out, Johnson would give up his last hit of the night to Brad Miller. However, he would get Nick Franklin to strike-out swinging to end the fifth.
Overall, Johnson’s night wasn’t overpowering, but it was certainly a good sign to see him inducing weak contact, something we all know has not been the case in the several starts before Tuesday night. It was also encouraging to see Johnson settle down when in the stretch, which has been a well-publicized problem for the right-hander.
At the end of the day Johnson earned his next start, which will come Tuesday at home against Boston. That match-up will be a bit more of a challenge than Seattle’s line-up. Still, it’s a start-to-start thing now, and if he can build on this start, Johnson may be able to salvage something out of this lost season.