Litsch feeling strong headed into '08
Fifth starter dominant against Tigers, strikes out five in five
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Things went a little better for Jesse Litsch this time around. On Friday, the Blue Jays starter turned in an impressive outing against a potent Detroit Tigers lineup, bringing a smile to his face.
The last time Litsch took on Motown's version of Murderers' Row, during his Spring Training debut on Feb. 28, Detroit pounded out four runs in two long innings against the right-hander. In Litsch's most recent stop at Joker Marchant Stadium, he encountered only two blips in an otherwise stellar performance.
"You're going out there and you're trying to get outs," said Litsch, who has just one start remaining this spring. "But with a team like this -- maybe the best hitting team in the league -- it's a definite confidence-booster."
Litsch spun six strong innings against Detroit, surrendering three runs on three hits with five strikeouts and no walks. During one stretch between the first and sixth innings, the 23-year-old starter -- projected to be the fifth man in Toronto's rotation -- set down 16 Tigers hitters in order.
Prior to that streak, Detroit's Gary Sheffield sent a misplaced curveball over the left-field wall for a two-run home run in the first inning. Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez ended Litsch's impressive run with another homer -- this time coming on an ill-advised cut fastball. Toronto catcher Sal Fasano shouldered the blame for the second long ball.
"The ball that Pudge hit I can't really complain about," Fasano said. "That was probably more my fault than his. We tried to throw a front-door cutter where a sinker would've probably been more appropriate. I don't really remember anyone else really hitting the ball hard against him."
The two-seam sinker was one pitch that Litsch continued to work on against Detroit. Litsch has used the pitch for the past few years, but he's tried to make it more effective this spring. Fasano said that he has seen Litsch's sinker improve throughout the course of the Grapefruit League slate, and it looked particularly sharp on Friday.
"I thought it was really good," Fasano said. "But his sinker is a work in progress, because his natural arm slot is to cut it. He's going to have to keep working on his sinker, but I saw a lot of progression with it today."
Fasano said that Litsch will throw his sinker between 88-91 mph, adding more velocity than with his other pitches. Litsch, who went 7-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts as a rookie for the Blue Jays last season, believes the pitch can be an important complement to his changeup and cut fastball.
"I threw it a lot today and it was working really well," Litsch said. "That's going to be big for me this year. Like I've said before, throwing it well is a confidence-booster, too. Being able to throw it for strikes and getting the movement I've been getting is good for me."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.