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Litsch's outing in loss stymies Gibbons

Litsch's outing in loss stymies Gibbons

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons didn't mince his words on Tuesday night. Leaning against a wall outside the cramped visitors' clubhouse at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, Gibbons let some irritation boil over.

The source of Gibbons' frustration -- evident in a handful of expletives -- was yet another abbreviated outing by Toronto starter Jesse Litsch. The performance by former Blue Jay and current Rays utility man Eric Hinske certainly couldn't have helped matters.

The Rays managed to chase Litsch from the contest before the end of the fourth inning, sending the Blue Jays on their way to a 6-4 loss. Litsch's woes stemmed from poor command -- a trend throughout his outings so far this season. After the latest lapse, Gibbons simply couldn't keep quiet.

"Hit the ... strike zone," Gibbons said. "Hit your spots. That's the kind of pitcher he is. He's got to do it. He's not locating the ball. That's his game. If he doesn't do that, he's not overpowering by any means."

Perhaps Gibbons, who later apologized for his slight outburst, can find some solace in knowing that he and Litsch are on the same page. Not 20 feet from where Gibbons went on his minor rant in the hallway, Litsch sat and stared into his locker inside the visitors' clubhouse. Litsch quickly cited location as the key culprit against the Rays.

"I just was throwing everything over the middle of the plate and getting hit," Litsch said, who allowed five runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. "That's probably a game I needed to locate more. I wasn't locating very well at all."

One of the primary problems that Litsch has been fighting is poor results with his sinker, which is a pitch he worked extensively on during Spring Training. The 23-year-old right-hander said he has yet to find consistency with the two-seam offering, especially as he gets deeper into his outings for Toronto (10-11).

"I felt good early on," Litsch said. "Then I started making some bad pitches, leaving stuff over the middle [of the plate]. I'm just trying to work through it right now, and kind of get that sinker back to where I need to be.

"I've had it occasionally here or there, but I've got to be able to throw it for strikes all the time. That's going to be one of the things I'm working on like crazy before my next start."

Litsch (2-1) said that it's been a similar issue with his other pitches. His location will seem fine in bullpen sessions and even in the early innings of his starts, but Litsch said his command seems to waver later in games. Evidence of Litsch's claim can be found within his pitching lines.

Through four starts -- each lasting fewer than six innings -- Litsch has limited batters to a .242 average when facing them for the first time in a game. Opposing batters boast a .467 average against the right-hander in their second trips to the plate. On Tuesday, the Rays' hitters went 5-for-7 against Litsch in their second at-bats.

"Early on it was good," Litsch said. "But, later on, it started flattening out and they've been getting on it late in games or in the middle of the games. I'm just trying to stay through everything and work through it."

On Tuesday, Litsch made quick work of the first four batters he faced before running into trouble against the Rays (9-11). In Tampa Bay's two-run second inning, rookie Evan Longoria sent a 2-2 offering from Litsch bouncing off the black batter's eye in center field for a solo home run.

In the fourth inning, the Rays piled on three more runs -- highlighted by an RBI triple by Hinske, who finished a single shy of hitting for the cycle. Well after Litsch's departure, Hinske added a solo homer -- his fifth blast of the year -- off Toronto reliever Jesse Carlson to put the Jays behind, 6-4.

"You can see he's matured," Gibbons said about Hinske, who spent parts of the 2002-06 seasons with the Jays. "He's given us trouble ever since he's left here."

The second lapse by Litsch came a half-inning after Toronto had taken a 3-2 lead, thanks to a trio of two-out singles off Tampa Bay starter James Shields (2-1). In fact, both innings in which Litsch yielded runs came after Toronto mounted rallies of its own -- an upsetting aspect for Gibbons.

"We talked the other day about shut-down innings," Gibbons said. "We had a couple of them and then we let them right back in and the second one they took the lead. When you're having trouble scoring runs, you've got to shut them down somehow."

Litsch is determined to sort out his ongoing issues.

"I don't know what it is right now," Litsch said. "I'm just going to work through it and look at some tapes and try to build from today."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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