Josh Johnson believed the mechanical changes he was attempting to make would finally lead to a successful outing and an end to his lengthy losing streak for the Toronto right-hander.
Walking out to the mound with a 1-0 lead thanks to Jose Reyes taking Felix Hernandez deep certainly helped.
“It awesome. You have to be almost perfect most of the time with him out there,” Johnson said. “Offense did an awesome job.”
Reyes homered on the first pitch of the game, added an RBI single to cap Toronto’s big fourth inning, and the Blue Jays handed Seattle ace Felix Hernandez his first loss since late May with a 7-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday.
The Blue Jays battered Hernandez (11-5) and knocked him out after just five innings, matching his shortest start of the season.
A leading contender for a second AL Cy Young Award, Hernandez got no help from his defence that committed three errors that led to three unearned runs while he was on the mound.
“It was a struggle. A lot of it was I fell behind,” Hernandez said. “A leadoff homer; that was a tough game.”
While Hernandez was struggling, Johnson was throwing one of his best games of the season with his potential spot in the rotation at stake. Johnson threw five scoreless innings and won for the first time since June 23, snapping a six-game losing streak.
Toronto manager John Gibbons pulled Johnson after only 86 pitches, but wanted to make sure he left with his confidence high.
“He maybe had one more left in him, but I figured instead of having to bail him out maybe that next inning, for all that he’s been through, let him finish with five good, strong ones,” Gibbons said. “… A lot of that was let him go out on a clean slate and feel good.”
Reyes brought the huge contingent of Blue Jays’ fans to their feet from the start. He lined Hernandez’s first fastball of the night 399 feet into the seats in right for his eighth homer of the season. It was Reyes’ 18th career leadoff homer and first this season.
For Hernandez, it was just the second leadoff homer allowed in his career and a precursor to a tough night.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” Reyes said. “I had that approach before the game I was looking for a fastball right in the middle the first pitch and I try to put my best swing and that’s what happened.”
Toronto scored three times in the fourth helped by two Seattle errors. Emilio Bonifacio had the big hit with a two-out double into the gap in right-centre field.
Bonifacio’s hit came after three defensive breakdowns by Seattle: Kyle Seager committed his second error of the night, shortstop Brad Miller threw wildly to second trying to start a double play and Miller failed to hold the ball when tagging Brett Lawrie on a stolen base.
Reyes followed Bonifacio with an RBI single to cap the big inning. Toronto then scored twice more in the fifth when Colby Rasmus dropped an RBI single on a two-out, 0-2 pitch from Hernandez. That was followed by Lawrie’s RBI single and a 6-0 lead.
Seattle’s ugly night defensively was capped in the seventh when Raul Ibanez committed the Mariners’ fourth error spiking an attempted throw from left field into the ground just a few feet in front of him and allowing Jose Bautista to score Toronto’s seventh run.
Toronto’s offensive output made it an easy night for Johnson, who in his previous four starts had an ERA of 14.06, but was masterful against the Mariners.
It was the second time this season Johnson didn’t allow a run and a key for him was getting out of the first when Seattle had runners on the corners and one out. Johnson got Kendrys Morales to ground into a double play and Seattle never got a runner to third base until the seventh on Miller’s two-run triple.
Johnson said his focus was staying more on top of his pitches, which helped keep the ball down in the strike zone.
“It was just a small little adjustment I made and it made a world of difference,” Johnson said.