TORONTO – Jesse Litsch has no doubt that his surgically repaired right arm is ready to handle the burden of pitching in the majors for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Manager Cito Gaston is far less certain, and keeps dropping less-than-subtle hints that the 25-year-old right-hander is running out of chances to convince him otherwise.
“You don’t let him work it out here until he gets his brain beaten out of him,” Gaston said after Litsch delivered a dud for the third time in five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, giving up five runs over 5 1-3 messy innings in a 7-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
“Then he’ll lose all the confidence he ever had,” Gaston continued. “So you have to see. If it keeps going that way, then we might make a decision to do something else. If not, one good, one bad, you might let him work it out.”
That there is stuff to work out is something everyone can agree upon.
The 25-year-old right-hander has now given up 20 earned runs in 24 2-3 innings for the Blue Jays, but that’s only half the story. Of more significance is that his trademark command comes and goes while his velocity is down noticeably — a really bad combination.
Still, Litsch got his back up when told Gaston keeps wondering whether or not he’s ready, referring to his troubles simply as “kinks” that need to be ironed out.
“You know, I keep hearing that and there’s not much you can say about it,” he said. “If you ask me, I’m ready. That’s me. Whatever they want to do, that’s not my call, but I’m ready to pitch here. I believe that and I’m going to keep saying that.”
Litsch didn’t figure in the decision — this one was settled in the eighth when Denard Span drove in the winning run with a single off Scott Downs — but he set the stage for the latest defeat for the Blue Jays (41-43), their eighth in nine outings and 12th in 15 before a crowd of 15,072.
Jesse Crain of Toronto and Jon Rauch, pitching the ninth for his 19th save, made sure it held for winner Jose Mijares (1-0) as the Twins (45-38) ended a two-game skid. Coming off a putrid 2-8 road trip, it made for a rough start to a six-game homestand ahead of the all-star break for the Blue Jays.
Litsch dropped his team into an early 2-0 deficit on a run-scoring groundout by Jim Thome and RBI single by Delmon Young in the second, and after the Blue Jays struck four times in the fifth to take a 5-2 lead, Litsch promptly gave it all back in the sixth.
That rally began with back-to-back homers by Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., and Jason Kubel and ended with Span working a bases loaded walk off Brian Tallet to knot things up.
“It’s a matter of 10 pitches. Stuff happens. Left some balls up and I just got to deal with it,” said Litsch.
“Losing control at a moment, that’s not really me. It’s just a matter of working the kinks out. Frustration is setting in a lot more now, but it’s one of those things where I’ve got to go out there and be myself.”
The rest of the game was on the bullpen — its inconsistency is another burgeoning issue — but of more immediate concern is what to do with Litsch, who is about 13 months removed from the ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow.
His fastball sat between 89-90 m.p.h. and Gaston believes he needs to be in the 93 range, like he was during his breakthrough stretch at the end of the 2008 season, to be successful. With Shaun Marcum on the disabled list, Litsch will likely make his next scheduled start Sunday versus the Boston Red Sox, but once the all-star break passes and Marcum returns as expected, he may be hard-pressed to keep his spot over the recently called up Marc Rzepczynski.
“He’s been off an on. Sometimes he’s had it, sometimes he hasn’t. Tonight he didn’t have it,” Gaston said of Litsch. “I don’t see the velocity there yet. Normally, you do have more than he’s having right now but you have to always keep in mind he’s only a year off Tommy John where most guys go 18 months.”
Tallet also gave up a solo shot to Joe Mauer in the seventh as the Twins went ahead 6-5 but Edwin Encarnacion tied it in the bottom half with a solo shot off starter Carl Pavano, who allowed six runs in 6 1-3 innings.
Young singled off the glove of Jason Frasor (3-2) to open the eighth, moved to second on Nick Punto’s sacrifice bunt and came around on Span’s single off Downs.
The Blue Jays cut into Minnesota’s early lead in the third on Fred Lewis’s RBI double and surged ahead 5-2 in the fifth on Lyle Overbay’s solo shot, an RBI single by Lewis and a two-run blast by Dewayne Wise.
It wasn’t enough for Litsch.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m out there. I’ve thrown good games, I’ve thrown bad games, and I’m out here battling for the team. There’s things I’ve got to do, there’s things I need to work on, but as it comes to ready, there’s guys who come back a lot quicker than me. It’s just a matter of going out there and throwing my game.”
Notes: Jays 2B Aaron Hill and CF Vernon Wells were both out of the starting lineup (Wells pinch-hit in the ninth and struck out to end the game) for the second straight game as they continue to struggle with a stomach illness. Their status for Wednesday is also up in the air. “They’re still sick, just weak,” said manager Cito Gaston. “They’ve both had IVs and all that kind of stuff. We’re thinking it’s food (poisoning), we’re not really sure. Food or some sort of virus.” … Wells was chosen to take part in the home run derby while Jose Bautista, who began the day leading the AL in home runs, was not. … Jays OF Travis Snider (wrist) was moved up to double-A New Hampshire ahead of schedule because frequent rain in Florida was keeping him off the field too much.