Notes: Young arms keeping Jays alive

Notes: Young arms keeping Jays alive

KANSAS CITY -- Consider this scenario. Your closer appears in only five games before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Your perennial staff ace misses 20 days with acute appendicitis. Your No. 2 starter makes two different trips to the DL and misses a month of the season.

Sounds like "Wait till next year" doesn't it?

That's hardly been the case with the Blue Jays, where several young pitchers have helped turn those misfortunes into good fortune. The result is pitching staff that, since July 1, has carved an ERA of 3.62, the best in Major League Baseball.

"Our staff's been pitching," manager John Gibbons said.

"It's a matter of the guys feeding off of each other. The bullpen has been unbelievable," pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said.

Arnsberg also said one of the keys has been the starters being able to go six or seven innings almost every time.

It didn't look that way when B.J. Ryan, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett started spending more quality time with trainers and doctors instead of hitters and fielders. The Blue Jays got young and more inexperienced in a hurry.

Gibbons said Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum and Jesse Litsch have all come into their own since they got their opportunities. He said all three have been aggressive and getting ahead in the count. Just as importantly, all three have been pitching deep into games, and that's been a big help to the bullpen. Arnsberg said during Spring Training, the young guys were pitching like typical young guys -- overthrowing.

"Over the last two months they started understanding their responsibilities and their jobs," Arnsberg said.

McGowan is 2-0 in his last three starts with a 1.27 ERA. He won his last start against Texas pitching eight innings and giving up only one run.

"We've known this guy for four or five years and we know what he's able to feature," Arnsberg said. "Now he's putting it all together."

Marcum carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Friday night and ended up with his ninth victory of the season. He's 8-2 since becoming a starter. Marcum has worked into the seventh inning eight times in 17 starts, and his 3.43 ERA is best among the Jays starters.

Marcum also carries an impressive 95-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Arnsberg said Marcum was the 24th or 25th guy on the team when the season started, but when he got his opportunity, he came through.

Litsch has parlayed a 4-4 record and a 3.64 ERA into a spot in the rotation, replacing Josh Towers.

Perhaps the brightest star has been Jeremy Accardo. In 2006, he appeared in 28 games for the Jays and racked up an uninspiring 1-1 record and a 5.97 ERA. Compare that to this season: 2-3, 2.42 ERA and 21 saves. Opponents are batting only .210 against him. Earlier this season, Accardo worked 21 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings to start the season, the second-longest string in club history.

"He's been everything and more that we want in a closer," Arnsberg said. "When his back is against the wall, he steps up. He's got a different gear to him."

The defense has also played a significant role in compiling that impressive ERA. Gibbons points to his quality outfield arms and the play of shortstop John McDonald as keys to their success. Aaron Hill has been a pleasant surprise.

"I didn't expect Hilly to be this good," Gibbons said. He's really made a difference over there at second."

Given some of the team's recent hitting woes, the Blue Jays will need that strong pitching and defense to continue as they try to close in on the American League Wild Card. Toronto entered Saturday 5 1/2 games back of the Mariners.

Blame it on Rios: Alex Rios continues to put up solid numbers for the Blue Jays.

He ranks among the AL top 10 in 10 different categories including ninth in home runs, fifth in runs scored, tied for seventh in hits, fourth in total bases, tied for sixth in doubles, and 10th in slugging percentage. For the season Rios is hitting .304 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs.

Oh-for August: The Troy Glaus hitless nightmare has now reached 25 at-bats. His last hit was July 31 at Tampa Bay. He hasn't homered since July 22 against the Yankees.

"I don't think it's anything physical right now, he's just in a slump," said Gibbons. "He's due, man."

Glaus' longest hitless streak was 26 at-bats in 2003. The slump has dropped his batting average to .247 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. He hit 38 home runs and drove in 104 in 2006.

Feel the power: Lyle Overbay just isn't feeling the power these days. His average hovers around the .250 mark, and he has only eight home runs and 33 RBIs on the season. Overbay missed a good part of the middle of the season with a broken bone in his right hand. Since returning from the DL on July 12 he has not hit a homer and has only driven in seven runs.

Hot stuff: Kansas City is in the midst of a, well, typical Kansas City August. Temperatures have been pushing 100 for the past week, and the humidity hovers around 80 percent. The 6:10 p.m. CT starts only offer slight relief.

Gibbons said it shouldn't bother tonight's starter, McGowan, who grew up in Georgia. But last night's starter, Marcum, grew up near Kansas City and had to come out of the game in the seventh inning due to leg cramps. In any case, the conditions are significantly different from the climate-controlled Rogers Centre.

Roster move pending: With Burnett scheduled to come off the disabled list tomorrow, Toronto will have to make room on the active 25-man roster. The two most likely candidates to be sent down to Triple-A are pitchers Brandon League and Jason Frasor.

Coming up: The Blue Jays meet the Royals again Sunday night in a rare 7:10 p.m. ET start when Burnett (5-6, 4.31) squares off against Brian Bannister(8-6, 3.32). The series concludes Monday night at 8:10 p.m. when Jesse Litsch (4-4, 3.64) faces Kansas City's Odalis Perez (6-11, 5.87).

Max Utsler is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.