TORONTO - Here's a remarkable stat: In each of his last six starts, Josh Johnson has allowed multiple runs in the same inning he allows his first base runner of the game.
The list and in parentheses the inning in question and runs allowed: June 28 at Boston (2nd, 2); July 3 vs. Detroit (2nd, 4); July 9 at Cleveland (4th, 2); July 14 vs. Baltimore (1st, 4); July 22 vs. Los Angeles (2nd, 4); July 27 vs. Houston (1st, 4).
The Blue Jays haven't won any of the six games and Johnson (1-7) has taken the loss in the last five.
On Sunday, Houston's first four batters scored. Jonathan Villar singled, Jose Altuve did the same and so did Jason Castro, scoring Villar. Then Chris Carter came to the plate and made no mistake with Johnson's mistake, pounding a fastball into the batter's eye in centrefield for a three-run home run.
The Astros led before all of the more than 34,000 fans in attendance had taken their seats.
"Definitely," said Johnson when asked if he's experiencing the most difficult period of his professional career. "Definitely. This game will definitely test you but like I said, just got to find a way, find a way to stay positive and get through it."
"He's scuffling, I mean that's an understatement," said manager John Gibbons. "He's feeling it. He's human. You know, you feel for the guy. 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 because there's really nowhere to hide out there but he's got to keep battling. There's nothing else you can do."
Nowhere to hide and so much time left in what already is a lost season.
Gone is the chatter about Johnson being one-and-done with the Blue Jays, fleeing back to the US-based team willing to throw the most money his way. Instead, the belief is the Blue Jays will extend Johnson a qualifying offer (in the $14-million range) in the off-season, one which he could accept to return for the 2014 season.
The focus turns to salvaging the next two months.
"It's been a battle," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "Definitely had a tough time commanding the fastball and breaking stuff on the outer part of the plate but he's a competitor, he's going to get back at it (on Sunday). Back to the drawing board a little with him."
Johnson is trying to improve his line to the plate. His tendency, on occasion, is to fall slightly toward the first base side as he's completing his delivery. As a result, his fastball runs over the plate and his breaking stuff, instead of starting in the strike zone and tumbling, flattens out.
One close observer says he'd like to see Johnson try to back door his curveball to left-handed hitters – meaning paint the outside corner – instead of trying to come hard down and in with his slider.
Johnson's mechanical inconsistencies aren't new. Video from last season, when Johnson was a Marlin, provide evidence of occasions when he would come out of his delivery.
As for Johnson's issues out of the stretch – remember the problems seem to begin once a runner reaches base – Walker's on it.
"We're certainly aware of that and trying to rectify it and make better pitches from the stretch," said Walker. "He's worked with his hands and lowered his hands. He's not tipping pitches. We thought maybe that was an issue but that's not the case ... It's a battle right now and I know he's frustrated with the consistency but we're certainly not giving up on him by any stretch."
Fans shouldn't give up on Johnson, either, if for no other reason than he's unlikely to be going anywhere else anytime soon.
Johnson's seventh try for his second win will come on Thursday night in Anaheim.