It may have been a four-inning rehab start, but Josh Johnson looked closer to being the pitcher the Toronto Blue Jays thought they acquired last November.
Johnson, sidelined with right triceps inflammation since his last start for Toronto on April 29, allowed one hit and one walk and struck out three as the Buffalo Bisons beat the Indianapolis Indians 2-1 in triple-A International League action Saturday.
Johnson threw 68 pitches — 38 for strikes and started with a strike against 10 of the 14 batters he faced.
It was a good follow-up to the first start of Johnson’s current rehab assignment. He struck out five in a three-inning appearance with Single-A Dunedin on Monday.
“My fastball command wasn’t near the same as it was last outing,” Johnson said. “My slider was there, and I threw it a lot to get me back into counts. I started throwing my curveball in the last inning to get me back in counts. It’s big for me to be able to throw all by off-speed pitches for strikes. It’s a big step.”
He set down the first six batters he faced before yielding a leadoff single to Brett Carroll in the third inning. Carroll stole second but Johnson retired the next three batters to avoid further trouble.
In the fourth, Johnson walked Alex Presley on four pitches, but struck out the next two batters before inducing a ground ball to end his day.
“He was pretty crisp,” Buffalo manager Marty Brown added. “He got out of the zone at times and made adjustments. He made big pitches when he had to. I’m not sure if he feels 100 per cent right now, but we saw some good things.”
The game marked the first triple-A outing of Johnson’s 242-game professional career. While with the Florida Marlins, he was promoted straight from double-A in 2005 and again in 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“My triple-A debut, it was a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “I’ve played with or against a lot of guys on the other team. It was something new.
“The hitters here know what they’re doing. That’s definitely what I needed to see.”
The game proved to be a quality pitching battle between Johnson and Gerrit Cole, who was drafted by Pittsburgh with the first overall selection in 2011. Cole worked six innings and allowed two runs on three hits, all to begin the first inning. He set down his final 10 batters.
As for Johnson, it’s uncertain whether he’ll make his next start for Buffalo or Toronto.
“I’m going to talk to them after the game and we’ll see,” Johnson said.
“You try to stay mentally sharp whenever you’re on the DL. It’s hard to do, but you have to find a way to stay positive and always believe in yourself.”