Notes: Litsch to stick in rotation
After a stellar debut, rookie righty will remain on club
TORONTO -- The past week has been filled with unexpected news for Jesse Litsch. Being promoted from Double-A New Hampshire to Toronto's rotation for a start on Tuesday was surprise enough.
On Wednesday, Litsch was caught off guard again when a group of reporters informed him that the Jays planned on keeping the young pitcher in the Majors a bit longer. After an impressive debut, Toronto decided that the 22-year-old right-hander deserved to remain in the rotation. Litsch will pitch again on Sunday in Philadelphia and Tomo Ohka, who was originally slated to start that game, will be moved into the Jays' bullpen.
"This is the first I've heard of it. That's great," Litsch said. "That's definitely a shocker to me. I want to go out and pitch, that's for sure. Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do and try to do it to the best of my ability."
If he comes anywhere close to pitching like he did on Tuesday, the Blue Jays will be more than thrilled. Against Baltimore, Litsch picked up the win after giving up one run on four hits over 8 2/3 innings. The righty also recorded 21 of his 26 outs via ground ball using an effective mix of sinkers and cutters.
"He's a pretty polished kid," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "I don't know how many ground balls he got, but that tells you everything you need. You look more into it than just the results. He worked fast out there. He fielded his position. He holds runners. He throws strikes. Guys like that can win."
Ohka, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto this past offseason, is 2-4 with a 5.52 ERA in eight starts for the Blue Jays. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in three starts this month. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said the plan was to skip Ohka's turn in order to give Litsch another outing, but the Japanese pitcher will likely rejoin the rotation before too long.
"We're going to need Ohka again at some point when we need five starters," Ricciardi said. "Right now, he's the guy we can skip to give this kid a start."
Due to off-days on Thursday and Monday, Toronto can maintain a four-man rotation that includes A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Litsch. The Jays won't require a fifth starter again until a weekend contest against the Twins on May 26, when Ohka may or may not be the pitcher elected to take the mound.
"It's too early for that," said Gibbons, when asked if Ohka would likely make that start at the end of the month against Minnesota.
What worked? The first thing Litsch did right during his debut on Tuesday was to go with the pitches that Toronto catcher Jason Phillips called. Litsch found himself throwing differently than he had at Double-A, but he wasn't going to argue with the results.
"I threw a lot of sinkers last night, which was new to me, but it worked," said Litsch, shrugging his shoulders. "I basically threw whatever Phillips put down."
Litsch said he threw roughly eight changeups. That total was drastically lower than the 15-20 he'd averaged with New Hampshire, with whom he went 5-1 with a 0.96 ERA in six starts this season. Litsch added that he also threw fewer curveballs than he was accustomed to.
Injury updates: Ricciardi said that right-hander Brandon League has "turned a corner" in his rehab from a shoulder injury in Dunedin, Fla. League pitched in an extended spring game on Wednesday and has been able to reach the low-90-mph range with his fastball, which is a slight improvement over Spring Training. Ricciardi indicated that season-ending surgery for League now appears unlikely.
Toronto left fielder Reed Johnson (back injury) is on schedule to return to the Blue Jays by around mid-June, according to Ricciardi. Jays catcher Gregg Zaun (broken right thumb) will travel with the team on the upcoming road trip, and will visit the doctor who performed surgery on his hand in Baltimore last month for a check up. Left-hander Gustavo Chacin (left shoulder) is "still sore" and will likely be out until around mid-June.
Claimed: The Blue Jays placed Jason Smith, who they selected from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft in December, on waivers on Monday. The 29-year-old infielder was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday. The Diamondbacks are required to keep Smith on their active roster all season, or they'll have to offer him back to Chicago for $25,000. Smith hit .212 in 27 games for Toronto this season.
Roberts gets the nod: On Wednesday, Gibbons started utility man Ryan Roberts in left field for the first time this season. Toronto's manager said he wanted to see how the 26-year-old performed in left in case the team might need to do a double-switch during the upcoming Interleague series with the Phillies. Roberts, who usually plays either second or third base, played a handful of games in the outfield for Triple-A Syracuse earlier this season.
Did you know? The 8 2/3 innings turned in by Litsch represented the longest outing by a Blue Jays pitcher in their big-league debut. The previous high was eight innings by Jerry Garvin (April 10, 1977) and Mauro Gozzo ( Aug. 8, 1989).
Coming up: After an off-day on Thursday, McGowan (0-0, 7.59 ERA) will square off against Phillies righty Jon Lieber (1-2, 2.83 ERA) in the opener of a three-game Interleague series at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.