Former Gator Johnson earns first major league win

Boston Red Sox's starting pitcher Brian Johnson throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning Tuesday in Toronto.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.

TORONTO — Twenty-one months removed from his first and only start, Brian Johnson was back on a major league mound Tuesday night.

The former University of Florida standout certainly made the most of it, helping the Boston Red Sox to an 8-7 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, picking up his first win in the process.

"It's everything I thought it would be," he said after helping the Red Sox run their season-high win streak to four.

Promoted Tuesday morning from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (1-0) gave up four runs and seven hits and struck out six in five innings. He lost his only other start, at Houston on July 21, 2015 — when he was dealing with ulnar nerve irritation in his pitching hand.

"I had no feeling in my hand at that point in time on certain pitches to where I would throw one and not know where the ball was going because I couldn't feel my fingers," he said. "But today, I felt like myself."

Johnson's win was nearly taken away as the Blue Jays rallied in the bottom of the ninth. Facing an 8-4 deficit, Steve Pearce drove Russell Martin in with a single. Ezequiel Carrera then hit his first home run of the season, a two-run shot into the Blue Jays' bullpen in left field, to make the score 8-7. But Devon Travis popped out to shortstop to end the game.

The Red Sox offense got going in a big way. Mookie Betts was 3 for 5 and got the team rolling with an RBI single in the third inning, before he hit a drive into the second deck to lead off the seventh with his first home run of the year.

Mitch Moreland, who reached based for the 12th straight game and hit his league-leading 10th double, was 3 for 5 and drove in three runs. Pablo Sandoval collected three hits for the first time since Aug. 14, 2015, as Boston hit the 15-plus-hit mark for the third time this season.

"We're always ready at any given point," Betts said. "Whether it's first inning or the seventh inning, at any given point we can take off and I think that's the beauty of our offense."

Martin, Carrera and Justin Smoak hit home runs for the Blue Jays, who went just 3 of 12 with runners in scoring position, although they snapped a streak of eight games of scoring four runs or less.

Marcus Stroman (1-2) had his shortest outing of the season, surrendering six earned runs and 11 hits before being removed in the fourth inning with two outs.

"Some balls found holes early and then they capitalized on some bad pitches later on," he said. "It's baseball. I'm not really worried about it, to be honest. I'll bounce back next start."

The Blue Jays' loss dropped them to 2-11, tying the 1998 Florida Marlins for the worst start to a season by a playoff team from the previous year. Kevin Pillar, who doubled three times in a game for the first time in his career, said while there is time for the Blue Jays to turn things around, it has to start soon.

"This is not how we envisioned it going, but at the end of day it's early," he said. "We can't sit here and use that as an excuse or a crutch for much longer, but the reality is it's early. Teams go through this."

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