Jays' big first not enough for Litsch

Jays' big first not enough for Litsch

TORONTO -- The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time for the Blue Jays' rotation. Already short-handed, Toronto's staff has started to display signs of distress as the much-needed respite approaches.

On Saturday afternoon, Jesse Litsch labored through another troublesome outing for the Blue Jays, contributing to a sloppy 9-4 loss to the Yankees at Rogers Centre. Following the defeat, Toronto manager Cito Gaston agreed that Litsch's part in the rotation's current issues is a growing concern.

"It is -- it will be," Gaston said. "He's a big part of this team, and we'd like to see him pick it up."

Litsch is an important piece within Toronto's starting five, especially considering right-handers Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum are both sidelined with arm injuries. There's also the matter of the trade rumors that continue to swirl around Jays righty A.J. Burnett as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches.

While Marcum's right elbow is expected to recover enough to allow him to return shortly after the break, Toronto is preparing to be without McGowan for at least a month due to an ailing right shoulder. McGowan is scheduled to meet soon with arm specialist Dr. Timothy Kremcheck for further evaluation.

Needless to say, Gaston is still undecided on how his rotation will look coming out of the All-Star break.

"We've kicked a few things around," said Gaston, who then turned to examine the large calendar hanging on a wall in his office, listing the upcoming probable pitchers for the Blue Jays.

Gaston's final decision regarding the rotation's order could be influenced by an appearance for ace Roy Halladay in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Should Halladay pitch in the Midsummer Classic -- a likely scenario -- Gaston said Halladay may follow Burnett in the rotation after the break.

The third and fourth starts of the second half will go to left-hander John Parrish and Litsch, though Gaston is still unsure of which pitcher will appear before the other. Litsch will be focusing less on when he might be pitching and more on finding a way to reverse his recent slump.

"Well see what happens after the break," Litsch said. "It could be good. It could be bad. I'm here to turn it around, obviously, but that's something I've got to do personally. There's nothing the team can do for that."

The 23-year-old Litsch is aiming to regain the form he displayed in his first 11 appearances of the season, when he cruised to a 7-1 record with a 3.18 ERA. In the eight outings since, Litsch has stumbled to a 1-5 mark with a 5.56 ERA, including his latest lapse for the Jays (46-48).

Against the Yankees (50-44), Litsch was chased after just 2 2/3 innings, representing his shortest start of the season. While Toronto's defense didn't do Litsch any favors, committing two costly errors that resulted in five unearned runs, the pitcher was charged with eight runs on seven hits.

"There's not much you can take out of it," said Litsch, whose record slipped to 8-6. "It's a loss. It's a big loss, and it wasn't a good game. That's been the [case] for the past four or five games now -- six, seven. You just have to deal with it."

Litsch's first misstep came on the afternoon's second pitch, which Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter deposited over the wall in right field for a solo home run. The Jays answered with four runs in the home half of the first inning -- three on a two-out triple from Adam Lind, which followed a leadoff triple by Joe Inglett -- but Litsch wasn't able to take advantage.

The Yankees poured out four runs in the second inning, three in the third and one in the fourth -- the latter on a solo homer from Alex Rodriguez -- to claim a 9-4 lead that was plenty to halt Toronto's modest four-game winning streak. Litsch's pitching line might have been different had it not been for two gaffes behind him, though.

Jays second baseman Marco Scutaro couldn't corral a grounder off the bat of Jeter in the second, missing a chance to turn an inning-ending double play and opening the door for three New York runs. In the third, shortstop John McDonald made an errant throw to first base that paved the way for another three-run outburst.

"Defense happens," Litsch said. "After stuff like that happens, you've got to go out there and set the team down. I put full blame on myself. The team got a three-run lead after the first inning, and I gave it back. That pretty much put a dagger back in us."

As much as the Blue Jays might need the upcoming break, Litsch could benefit as well. He plans on poring over video in the coming days to hopefully identify and correct any problems with his delivery.

Litsch has no other choice.

"You've got to keep your head up and keep battling," Litsch said. "It's tough to keep your head up in situations like this, but if you don't do it, you're only going to hurt yourself."

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