BOSTON -- The competition for the final spot in the Blue Jays' starting rotation officially came to an end Sunday afternoon.
Jesse Litsch threw four impressive innings and two bad ones against Boston in a bid to remain in the starting five.
Jacoby Ellsbury dealt the biggest blow to Litsch with a three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning. That was all the run support Jon Lester would need as the Blue Jays fell, 8-1, to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
"It was going to be a fastball inside and I just threw it right down the middle," said Litsch, who suffered his first loss of the season. "It was one of those where, 2-0 I fell behind, and he got me."
Litsch entered the game looking to secure his position on the starting staff. No. 2 starter Brandon Morrow is set to make his return to the club later this week and either Litsch or left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes will be left on the outside looking in.
Reyes had his chance impress on Saturday, but he surrendered four runs over just three-plus innings. For a brief period of time it looked like Litsch pitch his way into a similar result.
The 26-year-old found himself in trouble in the second inning. Left fielder Juan Rivera got a bad read off a pop up to left field and allowed the ball to drop in front of him for a leadoff hit.
Boston then recorded a pair of singles that tied the game at 1 and set the table for Ellsbury. The Red Sox's center fielder hit his third homer of the year on a 2-0 pitch that was located belt high down the middle of the plate to put the Red Sox in front by three.
"It was a fastball," said Ellsbury. "[I was] sitting on a pitch I could drive and got something I could do something with."
"It's nice getting out to the lead with Lester on the mound, and he gave us a great performance today."
Litsch then settled down and cruised through the next three innings. At one point, he retired 13 consecutive batters and struck out a trio of Red Sox over that span.
In the sixth inning, though, there was more trouble. With two out and one on, an error by third baseman Jayson Nix kept the inning from coming to an end. Two batters later, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run double down the right-field line, which increased Boston's lead to 6-1.
"I think he did a great job of battling, he made a lot of good pitches and that's part of the game sometimes," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "Sometimes the mistakes get hit. The two mistakes that stand out were the ones that they scored runs on, but other than that, I think he pitched his butt off and he did an outstanding job."
During Litsch's last outing against Seattle, he was forced to pitch his way out of difficult situations on multiple occasions. He left the bases loaded twice but eventually finished without allowing a run over five innings.
In his start on Sunday, the Red Sox came through when opportunities were presented. Blue Jays manager John Farrell was asked to describe the difference between the two starts and summed it up by simply saying: "The lineup. In a word, the lineup."
Litsch's occasional struggles also come down to pitch location, and unfortunately for Toronto, his two biggest mistakes on the day came with runners in scoring position.
"It comes down to pitch execution," Farrell said. "He leaves a ball in the middle of the plate to Ellsbury. In the sixth inning, they get the extra out. He, I thought, had handled Saltalamacchia well all day.
"Even as that at-bat was unfolding, he was making some good pitches down and in. Yet the last one he didn't get down and in far enough."
The Blue Jays were unable to generate much offense against Lester. The only successful scoring opportunity came in the second inning with runners on first and third.
Rivera broke to second base on a fake stolen base attempt. Saltalamacchia threw to second, which allowed Aaron Hill to score from third before Rivera was caught in the ensuing rundown.
Lester was nearly flawless for the rest of the game. The left-hander went six-plus innings, allowing six hits while striking out five to earn his first victory of the season.
It was the second consecutive day Toronto's offense was held to just one run.
"When pitchers like [Josh] Beckett and Lester are on, you know it's going to be a low-run game," said Farrell, whose team has now lost two straight to Boston. "We had a chance in the second inning to steal a run, figuring it was going to be difficult to manufacture some things against him, and we did just that.
"We had some opportunities. He got a couple of key ground-ball double plays. ... They made pitches in key spots."
The decision now facing Farrell is which pitcher will remain in the rotation. The numbers clearly favor Litsch, who has pitched more innings, has a better ERA and struck out more batters this season.
He also sounds like a man who presented the best case could.
"I felt great the whole game," Litsch said. "There was some unfortunate events. There's stuff that you can't control and you have go out there and pitch, and that's what I did. I went out there and pitched and got them off-balance, which is what I needed to do."