Josh Johnson was less than pleased with his fastball Saturday afternoon, but the good news for the right-handed pitcher was that his other pitches looked pretty darn good.
Johnson threw four scoreless innings, allowing just two baserunners Saturday afternoon at Coca-Cola Field. His Major League injury rehabilitation start anchored the Buffalo Bisons in a 2-1 win over the Indianapolis Indians at Coca-Cola Field Saturday afternoon.
The 29-year old is working his way back into the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation after landing on the disabled list on May 2 with right triceps inflammation.
He made one rehab start in Single-A Dunedin, giving up one run in three innings with five strikeouts.
His fastball was off, but the overall outing was a step better on Saturday, as Johnson gave up just one hit with one walk and three strikeouts in four innings. He threw 68 pitches, 38 of them for strikes.
“I’m pretty happy,” Johnson said of his Bison outing. “I wish my fastball command was a little better. I was missing by quite a bit but then the positive part was my slider was there to kind of back me up and my curveball. I had a good sinker today, too. So all those pitches, I was using both sides of the plate with everything. It’s something to build on.”
“I thought he was pretty crisp,” Bisons manager Marty Brown saisd. “He got out of the zone a little bit at times but then made some adjustments. Overall I thought he competed well. He made big pitches when he had to. .... I sure saw some good things. He had a heavy sinker. Used that. Pounded it. Was very aggressive in the zone.”
While there is no timetable for Johnson’s return to the Blue Jays, indications out of Toronto were that he would make one more minor league start.
He started the season with Toronto, making four starts and going 0-1 with a 6.86 earned run average.
It’s not the start that he wanted, nor the start the Blue Jays needed. Johnson was part of the seven-player deal the Blue Jays made with the Miami Marlins in November.
He was a two-time National League All Star with the Marlins: In 2009, he went 15-5, posting the highest winning percentage in Marlins history (.750). In 2010, he went 11-6 and his 2.30 ERA was the lowest in the National League.
But in 2011 he only made nine starts as he dealt with right shoulder inflammation. His return to the Marlins rotation in 2012 was subpar as he posted an 8-14 record in 31 starts.
On paper, it seems as if the Blue Jays are this year’s version of the Marlins.
Last season, Miami started amid much preseason hype as a serious World Series contender only to finish 69-93 and in last place in the National League East.
The Blue Jays entered the season with similar promise and expectations only to find themselves in last pace in the American League East. They entered Saturday 9½ games behind the New York Yankees, but Johnson doesn’t see similarities.
“Not really,” he said. “Both had slow starts, that’s about it. Two different teams and we’ve been playing a lot better lately. ... I didn’t really throw that bad. It wasn’t up to par for me, but I had one terrible start in Detroit and the others were pretty good.”
That outing against Detroit was the only loss Johnson was tagged with after giving up six runs on seven hits in just 1∑ innings against the Tigers on April 11.
But after time on the disabled list, Johnson feels stronger physically with a positive focus.
“I feel real good,” Johnson said. “It was nice to kind of stretch it out a little. ... You always try to stay mentally sharp when you’re on the DL. It’s hard to do but you’ve just got to find a way to do it, to stay positive, always believe in yourself and make sure you’re still there.”
In Saturday’s game, Johnson took the no-decision, though he was spotted a solid 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Bisons strung together three straight base hits, the latter a single by Luis Jimenez that plated Jim Negrych. A wild pitch from Indian’s starter Gerrit Cole allowed Eugenio Velez to score. Cole issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out, but Ricardo Nanita hit into a double play to end the scoring.
Cole, the overall No. 1 draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, settled in after that. He gave up three hits with three walks and four strikeouts in six innings.