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Litsch back with Jays after fixing pitches

Litsch back with Jays after fixing pitches

DETROIT -- Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg described the adjustments Jesse Litsch has made as a "total transformation." The young pitcher was back with Toronto on Tuesday after fine-tuning his retooled pitch arsenal during a brief stay in the Minor Leagues.

As unexpected as the trip to Triple-A Syracuse might have been for Litsch, the move also came as a surprise to Arnsberg. After watching Litsch show off his newly added four-seam fastball during a bullpen session in Baltimore on July 23, Arnsberg was looking forward to seeing him use the pitch in his next start for the Jays.

"I was so excited," Arnsberg said. "Then, to come in after the bullpen to find out we were going to send him down, it really humbled me quite a bit. I wasn't expecting that. I had no idea that was going to happen."

On Tuesday at Comerica Park, Arnsberg had the opportunity to watch Litsch throw in the bullpen again as a member of the Blue Jays. This time, Arnsberg said he saw even more improvement from Litsch, who took his demotion in stride and used the three Minor League starts to focus on two pitches in particular.

"I went down there open-minded," said Litsch, who is scheduled to start on Thursday in Detroit. "I went down there to work on stuff. I didn't know when I was coming back, but I'm happy that I'm back here now. I'm just ready to get after it again."

One of Litsch's objectives was to hone his two-seam sinking fastball -- a pitch that can effectively offset his cutter. Litsch's other task was to continue working on a four-seam fastball, which is a standard offering for most pitchers. For Litsch, featuring a straight fastball with little movement actually turned into quite a project.

"Most of the time, you're trying to get them to sink it or cut it," Arnsberg explained, "or, get it to move just a little bit in that zone. Now, we're trying to straighten his out."

In his three starts at Syracuse, the 23-year-old Litsch went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA, striking out 18 and walking four over 20 innings. Arnsberg said the reports from Syracuse indicated that Litsch's velocity with his four-seamer, which still includes some slight movement, was between 89-95 mph.

That's certainly a jump from Litsch's cut fastball, which tends to register between 83-86 mph, or even the hard sinker he usually throws between 88-91 mph. Arnsberg noted that Litsch's "natural fastball" -- his cutter -- acted more like a slider at times, featuring a large break.

The Blue Jays are hoping the addition of the four-seam fastball, combined with more of a focus on using his sinker, can help Litsch get back on track. Before being sent down on July 23, Litsch was 1-6 with a 6.12 ERA in his previous nine starts. That showing came after Litsch opened the year 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA for Toronto.

Considering the success Litsch had experienced last season and early this year, Toronto didn't feel reworking his entire repertoire was necessary until recently. Over time, though, hitters began to adjust to Litsch's style, and realized he was relying heavily on his cutter when the sinker wasn't working well.

"There was really no urgency to try to fix what wasn't broken," Arnsberg said. "They didn't know him that well, but now, when the league gets that film on you and they start bearing down on you, and they start watching scenarios and sequences and everything like that, they caught on."

"It's not often that you see a big league pitcher that you're going to change his stuff," he added later. "That's something that you usually do in the Minor Leagues and then when you get him to the big leagues, for the most part -- nine times out of 10 -- they're a finished product.

"This was kind of a total transformation of a guy."

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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