ANAHEIM, California - Josh Johnson insists he isn't injured.
He says the triceps inflammation which shelved him for six weeks earlier this season is a non-issue.
The troublesome tendinitis in his left knee, mentioned this week by manager John Gibbons and repeated by catcher J.P. Arencibia, isn't the reason Johnson's struggled so badly.
“I've had it since I was 11 years old so it's nothing new,” said Johnson. “Sometimes it'll be sore but actually it feels as best it has all year so not one bit.”
Barring the unforeseen, Johnson will be getting the ball on Tuesday in Seattle. To add to the woes of his personal six-game losing streak, Johnson is scheduled to line up against “King” Felix Hernandez.
There he was, more than three hours before the start of Saturday's game against the Angels, getting in his usual bullpen work in between starts.
Johnson made a footing adjustment his last time out, throwing from the extreme first base side of the mound. The change can be measured in a matter of inches but for a pitcher accustomed to routine, it feels like a longer move.
“I think that maybe just getting comfortable on that side of the rubber,” said Johnson, “that's a big part of it. We worked on it and threw some curveballs today, finally throwing them for strikes and being able to bounce it. Just much tighter spin. The slider was good and tried to take a little bit off the split, so it was a good bullpen; a really good bullpen.”
Johnson suggested Saturday's side season was much better than his recent bullpens, expressing hope that his work would translate into better results in a game.
He needs them.
In Johnson's last six starts, all losses on his personal record, he's allowed 28 earned runs in 28 innings for an even 9.00 ERA.
Dating back seven starts, Johnson has allowed multiple runs in the inning in which he allows his first base runner of the game. In his last two outings, losses to Houston and the Los Angeles Angels, he's spotted opponents four runs in the first inning.
The statistics are hideous but to Johnson's credit he's not hiding from them. Inquiring minds gather around his locker stall and he's willing to oblige. The numbers, the reminders, they take a toll but he insists during a game he isn't distracted.
“Once I'm out of the game or in between innings you get pretty frustrated but you've just got to push all that aside and find ways to get outs,” said Johnson. “It's been a really tough go.”
“I think the biggest thing is understanding he's still one of the best in this game,” said Arencibia, who's watched Johnson stumble up close. “This game will knock you down to where, mentally, it will drag you around and it's hard enough to play when you're feeling great; when your confidence is down it's a lot tougher too. He's an unbelievable pitcher, works hard, first-class guy. I think it's one of those things, I think this game tests you, everyone has struggles in their careers.”
Johnson has gone from a pitcher likely to make a high eight figure salary on a multi-year contract, to a guy who may have to accept a one-year qualifying offer, to a man who may find himself on the free agent scrap heap looking for an incentive-laden deal.
The Blue Jays, in the business of winning even if they haven't been doing enough of it, are wrestling with what's best for the ball club.
Do you do right by Johnson and give him the opportunity every fifth day to improve his stock, even if, every fifth day, his stock drops further?
Do you take advantage of off days and push Johnson back, giving him more days of work in between appearances and fewer starts the rest of the way?
Or do you pull the plug altogether?
The answer, at the moment, isn't obvious. Johnson, for his part, says he's looking forward to his next start. We'll take him at his word.
Typically laid back, Johnson acknowledges he sometimes thinks about joining the infamous highlight reels frequented by the likes of Carlos Zambrano.
If all else fails, break something.
“I want to really bad,” said Johnson. “Maybe after the last start I might have.”