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Litsch celebrates birthday in style

Litsch celebrates birthday in style

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Talk about having a good birthday.

Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, who turned 23 years old on Saturday, began his day against the Phillies on Sunday by striking out 2007 National League Most Valuable Player Jimmy Rollins on six pitches. He then struck out Shane Victorino and ended the first inning by forcing Chase Utley into a weak groundout right back to him.

Then the hits and runs kept coming for him, as the Blue Jays' bats posted six hits and six runs in the second inning and three hits and three runs in the third.

When all was said and done for the local native who went to high school in nearby Pinellas Park, Fla., the Jays had given Litsch a huge lead and he responded in an even bigger way, allowing one earned run on two hits with six strikeouts over four innings.

And he did this in front of a crowd of 9,402, the largest of the spring and the fourth-largest crowd at Bright House Field.

"It was great that we were scoring runs like that," said Litsch. "That's what it's all about, to get runs like that and then just go out there and pitch. For me, I was able to locate and my sinker was working well. And when the ball's moving, that's my craft and that's what I have to do."

While the Jays were knocking around Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick during the second inning, Litsch said he took comfort in it, more than anything else.

"You just get used to it and enjoy what's happening," Litsch said.

When he finally did return to the mound after Kendrick's 40-pitch inning, Litsch, who went 7-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts for Toronto in 2007, had to face Ryan Howard.

With a 6-0 lead, Litsch went right after the 2006 NL MVP. The 6-foot-1 right-hander got Howard to a 3-2 count and attacked the Phillies slugger with a fastball that Howard crushed over the right-field wall.

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But two innings later, with a 9-1 lead, Litsch gave himself his own gift when he struck Howard out on the same count and same pitch.

"That was one of those deals where I was just going to go after him with my best stuff," said Litsch, who tossed 65 pitches, 39 for strikes. "I had the lead, so I knew I could attack him like that. The first one, he hit out, and the next time, I got an out."

For Litsch, who is competing with right-hander Casey Janssen for the fifth spot in Toronto's rotation, it was an outing that was viewed positively by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who had said before the game that "it was time for the young guys to show us what they got.

"He was outstanding," Gibbons said. "Other than that one pitch to Howard, which he left out over the plate, he pitched really well. He was hitting his spots and he corrected himself from the last time out he pitched."

Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was just as impressed, if not even more.

"I was really impressed with his tempo and the way he attacked hitters," Arnsberg said. "He mixed his speeds well and his changeup was better. He used his sinker well and his cutter, too. He knows what I expect out of him, and we've been giving him the reins and letting him buck. Now he's really starting to gain steam."

All things considered, it's a birthday to be cherished for a long time.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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