Jays can't overcome tough start

Jays can't overcome tough start

TORONTO -- Toronto right-hander Jesse Litsch's first stint in the Major Leagues didn't come with the storybook ending that Blue Jays fans hoped for.

The 22-year-old rookie, who put a shot of adrenaline into the Jays team and their fan base during his brief stint in the big leagues, was optioned to Double-A New Hampshire following a disappointing performance against the Yankees.

New York center fielder Johnny Damon homered, and first baseman Josh Phelps added a two-run single off Litsch during a five-run first inning that propelled the Yankees to a 10-5 win over the Jays on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

Litsch struggled with his control from the start and was unable to pitch his way out of the first inning. The Jays right-hander allowed four hits and walked two in just two-thirds of an inning.

Jays manager John Gibbons says he thinks one of Litsch's strengths as a pitcher ended up being one of his weaknesses against the Yankees.

"His thing is location," Gibbons said. "But some balls got up and they took advantage of it. ... It doesn't even matter what kind of arm you have, you still have to pitch and you still have to locate the ball. He got burned by that."

That doesn't mean Litsch's first stint in the Major Leagues was a disappointment, though. The Jays righty made great strides for a pitcher his age, and after the game Gibbons wanted to make sure that Litsch focused on his overall experience at the big-league level, and not just his final start against the Yankees.

"I told him, 'Eliminate that one,'" Gibbons said. "'You ought to feel pretty good about where you came from, and where you're at, at this stage in your career. Leave here, anyway, with pretty good feelings.'"

Litsch now heads back to Double-A New Hampshire, where he began this season. In six starts for the Fisher Cats, Litsch was 5-1 with a 0.96 ERA while striking out 28 in 37 2/3 innings.

Litsch says now that he has received a taste of what it's like to be a Major League Baseball player, it's going to feed his hunger to get back and play at that level again.

"This is the life right here," Litsch said. "You don't want to go back down to Double-A. This is Major League Baseball. This is what you work for your whole life. I just have to work harder, obviously. It's a different ballgame up here."

There's no question that the highlight of Litsch's young career came in his Major League debut May 15 against the Orioles. Litsch only allowed one run on four hits and came within one out of recording a complete game.

It wasn't just Litsch's pitching line that was impressive, though, it was the situation that it came under. The Jays, having just lost their No. 1 starter Roy Halladay to an emergency appendectomy, desperately needed someone to step up and fill his void. That's exactly what Litsch ended up doing.

With his dad in attendance, Litsch pitched effortlessly on the mound and left in the ninth inning to a standing ovation at Rogers Centre -- one of the most memorable moments for the Jays so far this season.

Gibbons thinks that performance is a sign of what is to come for the young righty.

"The kid's got a nice future, he really does," Gibbons said. "He gave us a lift. He brought a lot of energy and excitement to that first game he pitched here. He fit in nicely, the guys loved him, and he's a good baseball player."

Toronto used the long ball to try to pull themselves out of the early deficit. Right fielder Alex Rios, shortstop John McDonald and left fielder Matt Stairs all homered as the Jays cut the lead to one run as late as the seventh inning.

Two innings later, the Yankees busted the game open by tacking on four more runs. Only one of those had crossed the plate when Jays third baseman Howie Clark camped under a pop fly for what should have been the last out of the ninth.

As Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez rounded the bases near Clark, he apparently screamed, "Mine!" Clark, who was playing in his first Major League game this season, got confused and thought he was being called off by McDonald, so, he backed off and let the ball drop, keeping the inning alive.

The weird Yankees ninth inning soured the comeback Toronto was mounting, but McDonald thinks the Jays' ability to get back into the game proves how far they have come as a team.

"We got down early, and the character of this ballclub, we've been seeing it a lot more I think over the last couple of weeks," McDonald said. "We've been playing better, coming from behind, and we've been battling. There's not a lot of giving in, in this club."

As of Wednesday night, Litsch was no longer part of that 25-man team. If he gets his way, though, that won't be the case for very long.

"My goal is to get back up here as soon as possible," Litsch said. "Go back down there, do what I was doing when I was down there before, and get everything rolling."

Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.