SEATTLE, Washington - It's far too early to make bold pronouncements about the return to form of Josh Johnson but, if it is to be, it had to start somewhere.
Maybe, on a glorious night in the Pacific Northwest, Safeco Field was the place.
“Awesome,” said Johnson, who won just his second game of the season and first since June 23, the last game of the Blue Jays' seems-so-long-ago 11-game winning streak. “What me and (pitching coach) Pete (Walker) have been working on is definitely working so got to stick with it and keep it rolling.”
Johnson's performance – five innings, no runs on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts and 86 pitches – was more than the Blue Jays would need on a night when a combination of timely offense and poor defense by the Mariners conspired to put Toronto comfortably ahead by the midway point of the game.
The Blue Jays won 7-2.
Entering the game on a personal six-game losing skid and seemingly unable to pitch out of the stretch with any success, Johnson had given up multiple runs in the inning in which he's allowed his first base runner of the game in seven straight starts, Johnson secured a crucial double play ball to end the first. The Mariners had runners at the corners and one out.
“Huge, huge,” said Johnson. “I threw some good pitches to get double plays. I hadn't been doing that in a long time so it was a good feeling.”
Johnson spoke to a group of reporters on Saturday in Anaheim. He'd just thrown his bullpen, which included a lengthy chat with Walker and his catcher on Tuesday night, Josh Thole.
His focus in the side session was staying on top of the baseball through his delivery. If successful, he'd better command his fastball and get sharper bite on his breaking pitches. Johnson felt, on Saturday, as though he'd turned a corner less than 48 hours after his latest rocky start against the Angels.
Only time, his next outing, would tell the tale. He passed with flying colours.
Both pitcher and manager were effusive in their praise of catcher Josh Thole, who filled in for J.P. Arencibia and handled a Johnson start for the first time this season.
“Just being able to get on top of the baseball for my slider, my curveball, my fastball, threw a couple of sinkers,” said Johnson. “Thole was great back there.”
“I liked the way they worked back there with Thole,” said John Gibbons. “I think we saw more curveballs than sliders and he was sticking it much better. He gave up some hits and he gave a couple where he had some base runners on but he worked out of some jams where in the past, I don't know three, four or five starts, guys were getting on and they're opening the game up. It was a big day for him.”
General manager Alex Anthopoulos was in attendance, so too was assistant Tony LaCava and professional scouting director Perry Minisian. None was there specifically for Johnson's start, the group has been along for most of the road trip, but Anthopoulos had stated for the first time publicly Johnson's status was being evaluated on a start to start basis.
Johnson's bought himself more time. His next start is scheduled to be Monday afternoon, back home, against Oakland.
“He was good today,” said shortstop Jose Reyes, who hit a home run on the first pitch of the ballgame. “That's good to see JJ at least throw five shutout innings for his confidence and hopefully the next time he goes a little bit farther and pitches good for us because we're going to need it.”
It's too late to salvage a playoff run but Johnson still has time to salvage his own season and his reputation.
It's too early to know if Tuesday was a turning point.
Next Monday, against a better opponent, will be telling.