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TOR@CLE: Johnson strikes out six over seven solid

CLEVELAND -- Even when Josh Johnson is at the top of his game, the veteran right-hander can't seem to catch a break.

Johnson has suffered through an injury-plagued and inconsistent 2013. There have been plenty of lows, fewer highs, and even when the performance is there, the win has been elusive.

That was the story again on Tuesday night, as Johnson had one of his best starts in a Blue Jays uniform, but a lack of run support led to a 3-0 loss against the Indians at Progressive Field.

"A little bit, yes, but whenever we don't score any runs, my job is to put up zeros," Johnson said when asked if he's felt any frustration during his first year in Toronto. "It's tough, but I threw the ball pretty well. I'm excited for how I threw it and just take it into my next start."

Johnson joined the Blue Jays in a blockbuster trade with Miami during the offseason. The expectations were sky high for the 2010 National League ERA leader (2.30), but so far, things haven't gone as planned.

The 29-year-old missed almost six weeks earlier this season with a right triceps injury and didn't earn his first victory until June 23 against the Orioles. That was supposed to be the start of a turnaround, but in the ensuing three outings, he has been unable to come away with the victory.

Part of Johnson's issue this season is that he hasn't been aggressive enough in the strike zone. He has attempted to nibble at the corners of the plate instead of attacking opposing hitters and forcing them to put the ball in play.

That changed for at least this outing, though. Johnson consistently got ahead of the Indians' batters, and as a result, he allowed just two runs on three hits over seven strong innings of work.

"Definitely more aggressive, just trying to pound the zone, trying to get strike one and see where it goes from there," Johnson said of his start. "They were patient. Some of the past couple of games, I was going for edges instead of just rearing it back and throwing it in the strike zone."

Johnson's lone rough patch came in the fourth inning. With one out, he walked Asdrubal Cabrera before allowing three consecutive singles to account for Cleveland's first two runs. That prompted a rare visit to the mound by manager John Gibbons, and while both declined to disclose exactly what they discussed, the meeting proved beneficial.

Toronto's starter got out of the inning without any further damage, and he made it through the rest of his outing unscathed. He came just one out short of a season-high 7 1/3 innings, and it marked the seventh time this year that he allowed three earned runs or fewer.

"I thought Josh was great," Gibbons said. "That one inning he gave up those two runs, but that's what we look for out of him. If he can do that every time he goes out there, we have a shot ... He pitched a heck of a ballgame, we just didn't get any run support."

The Blue Jays had plenty of opportunities to score, but a key hit with runners on base proved to be elusive. Toronto went just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, while leaving nine on base en route to being shut out for the seventh time this season.

The biggest wasted opportunity came in the fourth, when Colby Rasmus doubled and Maicer Izturis singled to lead off the inning. That put runners on the corners with nobody out, but Rajai Davis grounded back to the mound, J.P. Arencibia struck out looking and Emilio Bonifacio flied out to end the frame without a runner crossing the plate.

Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez got through six innings before leaving because of a high pitch count. He allowed just five hits and two walks while striking out four in his seventh victory of the season.

"He did a good job," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "There was some traffic for the better part of the night. ... He pitched around some things. He never let it spiral or get out of hand.

"They had runners in scoring position with less than two outs, and he got a big strikeout. He pitched himself back into counts when he needed to. He had good life on his fastball. There was a lot of things to like."

The Blue Jays now find themselves three games below .500 with five games remaining against Cleveland and Baltimore prior to the All-Star break. That puts Toronto in the unenviable position of having to go 4-1 over its final five to reach its previously stated goal of entering the break at or above .500.

As for Johnson, his record sits at just 1-4 with a 4.62 ERA, 11 starts into his final year before reaching free agency. It's not even close to where Johnson thought he would be at this point of the season, but at least there were plenty of high points in Cleveland that he can hopefully carry into his next outing.

"You always have to stay positive. You have to find a way to stay positive," Johnson said. "It's tough at times, but you have to find a way. We have some good teammates here that definitely help you through it, always be positive there for you and help you get through it.

"You don't want to lose. You don't want to go out there, give up a couple of runs and be the one who decides it on the losing end for our team, but it's part of it." Comments