Litsch's resurgence continues in win
Stellar outing has starter feeling more confident than ever
TORONTO -- There's now no questioning Jesse Litsch's spot in the Blue Jays' rotation. The same couldn't be said less than two weeks ago, when the young pitcher was searching for some level of consistency on the mound.
Litsch has since found his form, as evidenced by an impressive showing in a 5-2 victory over the White Sox on Saturday afternoon. It was a dominating performance that helped continue Toronto's bid to reverse its recent woes, which saw the club sink to the cellar of the American League East.
It was also a start that aided Litsch's attempt to turn his own season around. Litsch is hoping that his last two outings -- a pair of wins during which he compiled a 1.89 ERA -- are a foreshadowing of the remainder of this campaign, which opened just over a month ago with lofty expectations for Toronto and its talented pitching staff.
There was a point in April when Litsch's future appeared to be cloudy. Litsch went as far as to admit that his abbreviated outing on April 22 against the Rays, who sent the 23-year-old to the showers before the end of the fourth inning, served as a reality check.
"Oh, yeah. Definitely," Litsch said. "Every start is a wakeup call, but that one in general, yes, because we were on a bad run and things were going crazy, and we're trying to get back into the swing of things right now."
Litsch's latest gem led the Blue Jays (14-17) to their third consecutive victory, matching the team's longest streak of the season and the first such run since April 11-13. Litsch's forgettable start against Tampa Bay came in the midst of a disheartening three-city road trip, on which Toronto went 2-7.
The primary issue in that outing was a lack of location and a reluctance on Litsch's part to rely heavily on his sinker, a pitch on which he worked extensively during Spring Training. Litsch (4-1) said he used the offering sparingly over his first four starts, which could explain in part why he lasted no more than 5 2/3 innings in any of those outings.
Over his last two starts, though, Litsch has heeded the advice of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg in featuring the sinker more often. Over that span, Litch has yielded a mere three runs over 14 1/3 innings, mixing in seven strikeouts and no walks. That's a drastic contrast to his previous two starts, in which he went 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA.
"It's been big," Litsch said. "Just being able to throw it for strikes is definitely something I'm going to need to do. I've been doing it for the last two starts, and that's where I need to be right now.
"I've got plenty of confidence in it. It was just a matter of going with what was working. At the time, my cutter was working, and I had it working the first few starts. Tampa kind of got the better of me, and it's a game of adjustments."
Litsch, lacking an overpowering fastball, relies on pinpoint location and deceptive pitch movement. He had both aspects of his game working against the White Sox, who weren't able to record a hit off the young right-hander until the fifth inning. With a sharp sinker, Litsch induced 11 outs via ground ball, mixed in three strikeouts and scattered five hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"That's what he can do," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He uses his defense behind him, works fast and does all the little things. He competes, and he wins. He finds a way to win; he's one of those type of guys.
"And he's still a young man; it's all ahead of him. He's so far ahead of his experience level. You look forward to the days he goes out there."
It wasn't until the seventh inning that Chicago (14-14) managed to score off Litsch, and the Jays had established a 5-0 lead by that point. In the seventh, Jermaine Dye belted a 1-0 pitch from Litsch deep to left field for a solo home run, snapping a streak of 24 consecutive shutout innings by Toronto's pitching staff.
Center fielder Vernon Wells led Toronto's offense, collecting three hits and three RBIs. Wells put the Jays ahead, 1-0, with a run-scoring single in the first and, following a costly error by Sox third baseman Joe Crede in the sixth, he upped Toronto's advantage to five runs by roping a pitch up the middle for a two-run single.
"When you have your pitching staff doing what they're doing, you don't have to score too many runs," Wells said. "But it was nice to score a few extra once you get up early. It allows Jesse to settle in and throw strikes. Once we got to 5-0, he did a good job of just going out and throwing the ball over the plate."
When it was all said and done, Litsch had fired 78 pitches, including only 19 for balls. Carlos Quentin added a solo homer off Litsch in the eighth inning, but Toronto's support for Litsch's effort proved to be ample. The Jays stranded 12 runners, but managed to pound out 12 hits, five of them coming with two outs.
It wasn't exactly an offensive explosion for Toronto, but it marked just the third time in the past 17 games that the club plated more than four runs. Lately, though, Litsch and the rest of the Jays' rotation haven't required much support, combining for a 1.01 ERA over the past six games.
"We're just feeding off of each other right now," Litsch said. "We're trying to keep things going between us. Our whole staff, we're starting to swing the bats now. It's all coming together. It's a new month, and we're ready to roll.
"People are going to have to watch out for us, I think. We started out slow in the month of April, but that happens. Everyone can start out slow, but it's how you finish, really."
Litsch could have easily been speaking about himself.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.