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Snider's blast helps polish Litsch's gem

Snider's blast helps polish Litsch's gem

TORONTO -- Early Thursday afternoon, Blue Jays hitting coach Gene Tenace imparted some advice to Travis Snider. Tenace told the young rookie to forget about what happened the day before -- that focusing on the task at hand is more important than anything in the past.

"I'm just trying to wake up every morning with that kind of attitude," Snider said.

Snider might have some trouble keeping that mentality when he rolls out of bed on Friday. Only a few hours after his chat with Tenace, Snider was trotting around the bases inside Rogers Centre, telling himself not to run too fast. The 20-year-old outfielder wanted to soak in every second of his first career home run.

That memorable blast came in the fifth inning of Toronto's 9-0 romp over Minnesota, which was dealt a decisive three-game sweep by the Blue Jays. For the second game in a row, Snider was right in the thick of things -- this time aiding an offensive outpouring that helped back a complete-game gem from Jesse Litsch.

"Man, he's something. He's very calm," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, referring to Snider. "I think we might have something here -- I hope so anyway."

The Blue Jays (73-66) -- seven games over the break-even mark for the first time since the end of the 2006 season -- are certainly hoping that their furture is in good hands with Snider. Last weekend in New York, Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan walked by Snider in the visitors' clubhouse, smiled and called the highly-touted prospect "Superman."

If Snider continues his current pace, that moniker just might have staying power.

Since being promoted from Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 28, all Snider has done is hit .467 (7-for-15) with two RBIs and four runs scored in four games. In the finale against the Twins (77-63), the stocky left-handed hitter collected three hits and reached base four times. His solo blast highlighted the rookie's evening.

In the fifth inning, Snider unloaded on the first pitch he saw from Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey, sending the pitch deep to center field, where the ball bounced off the black batter's eye. At 20 years and 215 days, Snider -- Toronto's top pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft -- became the fourth-youngest player to clear the fences in a Blue Jays uniform.

"I was pretty excited," said Snider, allowing the slightest of smiles to creep across his face. "I was trying not to sprint. It was tough for me, but it was a good moment, just to be able to take it all in as you're trotting the bases and you're getting a good welcome from your home crowd."

In his two appearances against the Twins in the series, Snider finished 6-for-8 at the plate. Beyond the hits, he also drew a one-out walk that loaded the bases for the Blue Jays in the eighth inning on Thursday. What followed was a five-run outburst -- highlighted by RBI hits from Joe Inglett, Alex Rios and Adam Lind.

Snider's showing was only one part within the Blue Jays' offensive production in the series against the Twins. In denying Minnesota a win in the three games -- giving the Jays nine straight win over the Twins, dating back to last year -- Toronto plated 21 runs on 45 hits and twice had 17-hit outbursts.

One of those occurrences came on Thursday, when the Jays had each of their starting nine record at least one hit and seven players cross home plate at least once. Center fielder Vernon Wells drove home two runs -- one on a sacrifice fly in the first inning and another on a solo homer in the seventh.

The pile of support created a nice cushion for Litsch, who continued his dominant run since being recalled from a three-start stint at Syracuse. Using a sharp four-seam fastball to help offset his other pitches, Litsch (10-8) spun nine crisp innings, inducing 16 outs via ground ball and retiring the final 13 batters that he faced.

Since rejoining Toronto's rotation on Aug. 14, the 23-year-old Litsch has turned in a 0.94 ERA, allowing just three runs over 28 2/3 innings across four starts. In three of the outings, Litsch has allowed no runs, and he's given up a run in just three of the 29 frames that he's appeared in for the Jays.

"You get two or three good starts in a row and it's definitely a confidence booster," said Litsch, who was demoted to work out some kinks. "But I never really lost confidence. It was just one of those ups and downs in the road and you've got to get through them."

While Litsch appears to have found the right path again, Snider seemed to be on it from the moment he was called up. Snider's early success even had Litsch trying to come up with a nickname for the outfielder.

"I dont know. 'Youngblood,' maybe?" Litsch said with a laugh. "He's coming out swinging the bat well. That's good to see from a 20-year-old kid. I say 'kid' -- I'm only 23. But, he's come out swinging it well."

Snider probably couldn't have hoped for a better start to his career.

"It's tough to believe," he said.

It'll be even harder to forget.

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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