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Johnson struggles again as Blue Jays fall to Astros

The Canadian Press

7/27/2013 5:42:50 PM

TORONTO -- Josh Johnson doesn't have the answers.

After another horrid start, the Toronto Blue Jays starter didn't know what he was doing wrong this season or in Saturday's 8-6 loss to the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre.

"I've just got to make better pitches," he said. "I made some OK pitches, but then I made some terrible ones as well."

Johnson fell to 1-7 and saw his earned-run average rise to 6.08 as he gave up seven runs on seven hits, including three home runs. It was his third straight bad start and fifth consecutive loss in as many appearances.

"He's scuffling, that's an understatement," manager John Gibbons said. "He's feeling it. I mean, he's human. You feel for the guy. And he's never struggled a whole lot in his career. He's trying to settle in, he's trying to contribute, and it hasn't gone well for him. It's tough. There's really nowhere to hide out there."

Johnson tried to take a "different mind-set" onto the mound Saturday afternoon after lasting just two innings Monday. His pre-game bullpen session admittedly wasn't sharp, but the right-hander insisted he didn't think, "Here we go again" after surrendering back-to-back singles to start the game.

"Sometimes that happens," Johnson said. "Seems like it's happened a lot more with me, but it's part of the game."

When Astros designated hitter Chris Carter hit a three-run home run before Johnson recorded an out, it marked the sixth straight start in which he allowed multiple runs in the first inning a base runner got on. Pitching coach Pete Walker said he and his staff were "certainly aware" of that trend.

But throwing from the stretch isn't Johnson's only problem, as Gibbons pointed out that he allowed solo home runs to Justin Maxwell and Matt Dominguez from the windup.

Where Johnson's issues stem from could be mechanical or mental. More likely, it's a combination of both, as the 29-year-old said his confidence is "not real high" right now.

"They all go through those stretches where confidence becomes an issue," Gibbons said. "You've got to deal with it. That's part of this business. I know he's scrambling, he's got to be scrambling trying to figure it out because you'll see him: He'll pitch some hitters good and then lose it and get hit pretty hard."

Johnson tried to work on keeping his throwing motion more direct, driving down his right hip instead of falling off the mound toward first base. He consciously thought about it for all 5 2/3 innings Saturday.

"I'd do it for a couple pitches and then I wouldn't do it for a couple," Johnson said. "That inconsistency was still there a little bit."

Consistency has been hard to find for the Blue Jays this season, and that goes beyond Johnson's struggles. They managed to put six runs on the board Saturday, finally getting to Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, but it wasn't enough.

Keuchel, who lasted until Jose Bautista's three-run homer in the eighth, said the Blue Jays had as good a lineup as he has seen in the major leagues. Toronto showed it by out-hitting Houston, but the hole Johnson dug was too deep to get out of.

"I think he just wants to compete, and he just wants to get some consistency in his game right now," Walker said. "The frustration is that he doesn't feel like he's giving this team a chance to win a game."

As Johnson failed to do that for the fourth time in five starts, it's time for more re-evaluation. Walker said it's "back to the drawing board a little bit with him."

From his vantage point, Johnson saw some positives. He finished with eight strikeouts and was able to last into the sixth inning to keep a tired bullpen fresh.

But the negatives certainly outweighed the positives.

"I just think they put some good swings on him," Gibbons said. "The ball's not where he's trying to locate it, and then he's maybe up in the zone a little bit and they hit him."

Johnson said he "threw some pretty good pitches." Because he didn't throw enough, he was left to lament another loss, but the coming days will mean more work to right his game.

"It's a battle right now," Walker said. "And I know he's frustrated with the consistency, but we're certainly not giving up on him by any stretch. I still think he's got plenty of stuff to get major-league hitters out. I think you saw it with the strikeouts today: At times he's very good. He's going to continue to work at it, and I still believe in my heart that he's going to have some good games here."

NOTES -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve left the game with tightness in his left quadriceps muscle. He said he felt some tightness going from first to third, and manager Bo Porter indicated his removal was for precautionary reasons. ... Blue Jays second baseman Mark DeRosa hit his 100th career home run with a solo shot in the second inning.