Jays waste strong Johnson start vs. White sox

Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko (left) crosses the plate to score on a wild pitch by Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh Johnson (right). (CP/Frank Gunn)

TORONTO – In close games it’s the little things that get you, and a handful of small errors ended up costing the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

A wild pitch and misplaced fastball by Josh Johnson, a borderline 3-2 pitch that went against Steve Delabar, an awkward route to the ball by Emilio Bonifacio, and an errant throw by Rajai Davis all contributed to a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

The final result squandered seven strong innings of two-run ball from Johnson – who bounced back from the shortest start of his career, a 1.1 inning, six earned run mess in miserable Detroit weather last week – and stalled what’s been a productive return of the rotation thus far.

The two runs against him came on a spiked slider in the second, and a Paul Konerko solo shot that tied things up 2-2 in the seventh – the only two pitches the big right-hander regrets.

“Fastball away, it just ran back over the middle,” said Johnson. “I knew he was swinging, too. Just wish I could take that one back.”

This one was sealed in the ninth when Delabar walked the first two batters he faced – getting squeezed on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Konerko on the second – to open the frame, and then watched as Dayan Viciedo’s one-out liner to centre sailed over Emilio Bonifacio to bring home the go-ahead run.

“That’s a tough pitch,” J.P. Arencibia said of Konerko’s 3-2 take. “That pitch I’ve seen it go both ways, it was a little down, but again, but that’s one of the harder pitches to (take). I took a look at it and for me, even watching it in slow-mo, it’s tough. It is what it is, we’ve got to make pitches after that.”

Delabar took over from Johnson and after a clean eighth, lost Adam Dunn to open the ninth and then didn’t get a call from home plate ump Larry Vanover to Konerko.

He rallied to strikeout Conor Gillaspie before Viciedo’s lined a 3-2 slider into centre that Bonifacio, shifted over from right after Davis pinch-hit for Colby Rasmus in the seventh, took an awkward route to the ball but likely wouldn’t have run it down anyway. That brought home Dunn.

“I mean, 3-2, you want to make your pitch, you don’t want to get beat on your third pitch, you want to throw it over the plate, and if he takes it it’s a called strike, you don’t want to walk him on your third-best pitch,” said Delabar. “Hang with them.”

Darren Oliver then surrendered a sacrifice fly to Hector Gimenez — Davis’s throw home from right had plenty of arm and beat Konerko home easily, but was too far wide for Arencibia to get back and make a tag — provided an insurance run. That came in handy when Brett Lawrie cashed in Edwin Encarnacion with a fly ball off Addison Reed, who recovered for his fifth save.

LAWRIE’S BACK: Brett Lawrie walked into the Blue Jays clubhouse around 3:45 after flying in from Tampa, made the rounds exchanging handshakes and hugs with his teammates, and geared up for his season debut, during which he went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and five assists at third base, including a bare-handed gem on Alex Rios in the eighth.

His 13-game absence due to a left oblique strain exposed how much the Blue Jays missed his defence as much as his offence, and he returns with the front office’s confidence that he can also play second after two strong showings in rehab games this week.

That could be of value down the road, should the Blue Jays decide to realign themselves under any number of possible scenarios.

“I loved it. It was a breath of fresh air,” Lawrie said of playing second base. “That’s just obviously something they have in their back pocket now. If anything were to occur on the field, they know they can put me over at second base with no hesitation.”

Lawrie was injured diving for some balls at third base during Canada’s March 6 exhibition game versus the Cincinnati Reds ahead of the World Baseball Classic. The injury was through to be minor at the time, but ended up sidelining him for nearly six weeks.

“I didn’t really think it was going to take that long,” said Lawrie. “That’s the thing: You can never put a timetable on that kind of injury.”

With Jose Bautista out again, manager John Gibbons batted him sixth and said the Canadian would likely remain in the middle of the lineup and not be considered for the leadoff spot. Emilio Bonifacio has been handling that in Jose Reyes’ absence, but Melky Cabrera will probably slide up on days when Bonifacio isn’t in the lineup.

Lawrie was simply happy to be back.

“I just want to help the boys out and put a smile on everyone’s face and make everyone else better,” he said. “That’s what I’m out here to do.”

BAUTISTA SITS AGAIN: Jose Bautista missed a second straight game with back soreness while also fighting an ear infection. Manager John Gibbons said before the game his slugger might be available for an at-bat if needed, but afterwards said, “He wasn’t ready to pinch-hit. That’s basically it. Hopefully he’ll be ready (Wednesday).”

WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (6-8) failed to get back to the .500 mark before a crowd of 16,131 and fell to 0-3 in games decided during a team’s last at-bat. The White Sox (6-8) won for the second time in three games after dropping five straight.

ROMERO CHECK: Ricky Romero threw a simulated game in Dunedin, Fla., on Tuesday and while the Blue Jays were happy with what he saw, there’s no timeline for him to see some real action yet.

“He looked good,” said Anthopoulos, who spoke with pitching co-ordinator Dane Johnson. “He’s not all the way there yet, he threw a lot of strikes, his stuff was good, but he’s still not exactly where he needs to be.”

Romero has been reworking his pitching motion primarily to keep his body driving to the plate, although he’s also working on other adjustments.

THE ARMS: Josh Johnson dominated Tuesday the way the Blue Jays expected him to when he was acquired over the winter, in what was by far his best outing for the club.

His slider a lost cause in the bitter cold and whipping mist of Detroit last time out, it was at its best this time out, helping him rack up eight strikeouts. The first run he surrendered came on a two-out wild pitch in the second and retired 10 straight from the third to seventh, a run ended by Konerko’s blast.

“I was just more aggressive overall, fastball, curveball, slider, everything was going, not just to the catcher but through the catcher, through the zone,” said Johnson. “That was the main focus for this start and it worked out.”

Dylan Axelrod allowed two runs on seven hits and a walk over six innings, while Hector Santiago and Matt Lindstrom effectively bridged the gap to closer Reed.

“They have a good bullpen,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “You’ve got to get to their starters.”

THE BATS: Home runs by Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia provided all the offence for the Blue Jays, who generated precious little beyond that.

Their best shot at a rally came in the sixth when Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind followed Arencibia’s fourth homer of the season with singles, but Brett Lawrie’s fielder’s choice ended the frame.

“I feel all right, just trying to be as consistent as I can with my work,” said Arencibia. “They’re not as fun when you don’t win the game.”

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