ANAHEIM-What can the Blue Jays do with a healthy Josh Johnson other than live with the frustration? The tall, struggling righthander on Thursday lost his sixth consecutive start and allowed four first-inning runs for the second straight game as the Angels thrashed the Blue Jays 8-2 at Angel Stadium.
“He's one of our guys,” manager John Gibbons said of Johnson, admitting he had no solutions. “He works as hard as anybody. It's a cruel business. He's one of those guys you root for. He's got that personality. He's a good guy and you root for guys like that. He's had a lot of success at this level and he's rock-bottom right now. He gives it his best every time he goes out there, it's just the results aren't there.”
It didn't take long for the horsehide carnage to begin. Angels' rookie Kole Calhoun lobbed a single to left. After two hard-hit outs and a chance to escape, Howie Kendrick singled Calhoun home. At that point, Mark Trumbo launched a monster home run to left. It was Johnson's 15th homer allowed setting a personal career high for any season. The Angels added a fourth run in the first on a J.B. Shuck single.
“It's frustration, that's it,” Johnson said. “I'm out there trying to battle, trying to get through it and trying to stay positive. The worst part is doing that to my bullpen, doing that to my teammates.
“It's really tough. I have to find a way to stay positive and get through it and become a better pitcher because of it. I've got to not think about it too much tonight, come back and watch video and do whatever I can to get back. Hopefully it'll make me a better pitcher in the long run and a better person.”
Even in the solitary inning Johnson pitched relatively well, the second, the Angels managed to score another soft run. Calhoun singled, again, leading off then stole second base with catcher J.P. Arencibia throwing from his knees, slicing the ball away from Maicer Izturis into right centre field for an error. Josh Hamilton subsequently lofted a sacrifice fly to medium left field.
Johnson's night mercifully came to an end in the third inning, exiting with the bases loaded and one out, following another four hits, a sacrifice fly and a walk. It could have been worse except lefthander Juan Perez came on and struck out Mike Trout and Hamilton. The final log against Johnson showed 10 hits in 15 at-bats, with two walks and two sacrifice flies. His ERA is now 6.60.
“A couple of small adjustments that we made obviously didn't help too much tonight,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “They put some good swings on the ball and he elevated some pitches.
“He definitely pitched to the middle part of the plate a little too much. It looked like the ball to Trumbo was a hanger, a breaking ball. They seemed to be right on a lot of those pitches. We'll look at everything from tipping to whatever, at this point, trying to get him through the rest of the season. He's not off a lot, he's just off enough where they're squaring up some balls and hitting them hard.”
Johnson still has a possible 10 starts remaining as he careens towards free agency. Walker still has confidence in Johnson's ability to re-discover any of the missing elements.
“He's still got the velocity to get guys out, to get swings and misses,” Walker said. “One thing he has to do is create a little bit more (arm) angle and get back down in the strike zone. He's still got to locate his fastball. He's got enough to get by some guys, so I wouldn't say he's a finesse guy, by any means, or needs to be. He's still got enough power in his game to attack hitters and get guys out, but he has to continue to believe it.”
The good news for the Jays pitching staff on Thursday involved the successful return of righthander Sergio Santos who was activated earlier in the day to replace Dustin McGowan, suffering a pulled muscle in his right side, on Tuesday in Oakland.
Santos, a native of nearby Bellflower, CA, pitched the sixth and seventh innings allowing one run, facing seven Angels and touching 93 m.p.h.
“I felt like I was ready to come as soon as they were ready to call,” Santos said of his stint in AAA-Buffalo. “All I was doing was just preparing myself for every day I was going to throw, just trying to get myself as ready as I can to be up here and play.
“I'm going in and I only know one way to go and it's to go hard. I'm going to be smart about that and obviously pay attention to my body a little bit more than I have in the past. To know that the quality of work is better than the quantity of work. Just trying to figure that out.”
The Jays offence started the game in a hole and failed to dig its way out, scoring two runs in seven innings against starter and winner Garrett Richards and none against the bullpen.
Colby Rasmus, the Jays' player-of-the-month for July, had two hits, including a double. Brett Lawrie was 2-for-3 and is hitting .385 in his last four games with five hits in 13 at-bats.
Cabrera had a brutal night in the field and is back on the DL. He came up far shy of Calhoun's bloop hit in the first, then in the third inning was late to the spot in cutting off a single to the alley, encouraging Trumbo to go from first to third. When Cabrera came up to throw, the ball slipped out of his hand as he made the motion and landed behind him allowing the runner to score and Erick Aybar to take second.
An inning later, Melky was replaced in left field by Rajai Davis, with an announcement that he had irritation in his left knee. Cabrera after the game was disabled and righthander Neil Wagner was recalled meaning the Jays are back to an eight-man bullpen.
The top three in the Jays order were a combined 0-for-11 with a walk and two grounded-into-double-plays as the club dropped to 2-2 on the road trip with six games remaining. Johnson's next scheduled start is Tuesday in Seattle.