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Litsch has few answers for struggles

Litsch has few answers for struggles

TORONTO -- Jesse Litsch's performance on Saturday just added to what has been a growing trend for the Blue Jays starter. The Toronto right-hander has essentially been two different pitchers over the first half of the season. Unfortunately, though, the lesser half of Litsch is the one who has been displayed lately.

Against the Yankees on Saturday, Litsch yielded eight runs (three earned) on seven hits in just 2 2/3 innings. While the Jays' defense didn't exactly help matters, committing two errors in the field, Litsch was ineffective nonetheless.

"It wasn't a good game," said a dejected Litsch following the loss. "That's been the [case] for the past four, five, six, seven games now. So I just have got to deal with it."

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Including Saturday's game, Litsch is 1-5 with a 5.56 ERA over his last eight starts. He has walked eight, struck out just 21 and allowed 61 hits in his last 45 1/3 innings. He has also watched his ERA balloon almost a full run in that span, from 3.18 to 4.16.

A pitcher who does not have overpowering stuff, Litsch depends on his ability to locate his pitches. When Litsch has been successful this year, it has also largely been the result of his two-seam fastball, a pitch that the 23-year-old worked on heavily during Spring Training.

Litsch's two-seam fastball flourished during the pitcher's early-season success, when he went 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA over his first 11 games. During that span, Litsch appeared to be a completely different hurler. He walked just nine batters, struck out 37 and allowed 66 hits in 65 innings.

The drastic difference between his two stretches has left the right-hander scratching his head. Litsch was asked if he could identify any of the reasons for his lack of success lately.

"Not really -- if I knew that, then it would be a different story," said Litsch. "I'm going to sit down over the [All-Star] break, try to analyze it and figure stuff out. As of right now, there's nothing I can do about it.

"I'm going to have to sit down and look at video," Litsch added. "[I'll] talk to [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] and Roy [Halladay] and everyone and see what they can see. Maybe someone will figure something out."

What has been even more puzzling about Litsch's recent downward spiral is that sandwiched in between his slump was a dominant start in which he allowed just one run and three hits over eight innings in a win over the Reds.

"That was a game where I was hitting all my spots," said Litsch. "That was the premier game of the stretch, I would say."

When questioned about Litsch, Jays manager Cito Gaston identified the start against Cincinnati as a critical one for the young pitcher.

"He kept the ball down and moved the ball around," Gaston said, referring to Litsch's June 26 start. "I think he's just not hitting his spots, and Jesse certainly needs to hit his spots. I think that's the problem with him.

"You would hope he would have another game like he did against Cincinnati so he can get some confidence back. That's what he's going to have to do. Some kind of way, he's going to have to hit his spots. Otherwise, he's going to have problems."

Struggling over long stretches is not something that Litsch has been used to at the Major League level. Beginning with his big league debut, last May, Litsch had done nothing but succeed. He came within one out of a complete game in his first start in the Majors and finished 7-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts for the season for Toronto.

While currently trying to recapture the same type of success on the mound, Litsch said that he is maintaining a positive outlook.

"If you don't do it, that's going to hurt you," Litsch said. "That's one thing I've learned in the past, growing up. That's something I'm going to have to do."

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

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