SAN DIEGO, California - Josh Johnson was doing more than rehabbing an inflamed triceps during his six-week absence.
When Johnson takes the mound on Tuesday night in San Francisco, his first start since April 21, he'll feature a differently gripped changeup he hopes will keep Giants' hitters off balance.
A prototypical power pitcher with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s mph, Johnson feels he's lacked an offspeed pitch with a significant variation in velocity.
"I've been trying to get speed off for years and years," said Johnson. "You see other guys whose changeups are hard but they have good action to it. Mine doesn't really have that action that you'd like that can get groundballs or get a swing and miss here and there to throw guys off a little bit, to have them respect that pitch. Hopefully I can get it to that level where it can be a huge pitch for me."
Johnson has previously used his curveball to get hitters, anticipating his fastball or slider, to commit early. Even then he found he was throwing his curveball too hard.
During his down time, spent predominantly at the Blue Jays' facility in Dunedin, Florida, Johnson began picking the brain of Rick Langford, the club's minor league rehab and pitching coach.
It was then a change to Johnson's changeup grip was discussed and once the big right-hander was back on a mound, the change was implemented.
"It's all about trust with that, with new grips," said Johnson. "I threw a couple good ones in the rehab starts. The first rehab starts the punchouts I had were with the changeup. Then, as always, once you start throwing it more and more it kind of goes up and down. Hopefully it will keep going up and progressing with it and keep it down in the zone."
The Blue Jays, who entered play Sunday 10 games under .500 and buried in last place in the American League East, need not only Johnson's return to the mound but his return to effectiveness.
Johnson himself needs the same. Making $13.75-million this season and a free agent after the World Series, Johnson needs a combination of health and success in order to secure a contract rich in both term and dollar.
In four starts this season, the last of which came April 21, Johnson is 0-1 with an ERA of 6.86. His walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) sits at 1.881, inordinately high especially for a potential staff ace.
When Johnson went down there was no indication he would miss six weeks.
"It was just in a weird spot, it's something that I've never had before, never felt before," said Johnson of the triceps inflammation. "Just felt like someone had my fingers stuck in my triceps and every time I'd get out there and get extension, I could throw and be alright but as soon as I let it go and got extension that's when I could feel it. It was in a weird spot and I didn't want to escalate it into anything worse, it's the exact opposite of what we'd want. So, just take a little bit more on this end of it."
Johnson rejoined the Blue Jays on Friday night and was in the dugout in time to watch a good portion of the 17-inning marathon loss. His family is with him on the road trip.
He says he's glad to be back.
"Absolutely. Just being out there and going to battle with the guys and just being around."