Litsch fills in with gem to quiet Yanks
Jays' three-run second enough as righty lasts 7 2/3 innings
NEW YORK -- Jesse Litsch didn't have much time to study up on the Yankees, but maybe that was a good thing. On Monday, the rookie took the mound for the Blue Jays on short notice and simply relied on his relentless style.
The Yankees' patient lineup didn't have many chances to work into deep counts as Litsch sent strike after strike popping into the mitt of Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun. The stymied New York hitters wore the infield grass thin with a heavy dose of groundouts, and Litsch -- the former Devil Rays batboy -- walked away the winner in a 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium.
"They told me last night that I was pitching today," said Litsch, who worked into the eighth inning for just the second time this season. "So I had to just go with the flow and throw my game -- just get the outs."
Originally, Toronto right-hander A.J. Burnett was slated to go against New York, but he headed home to the Baltimore area for personal reasons. With Burnett's overpowering arsenal unavailable, the Blue Jays turned to the young finesse pitcher, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Unlike in the previous two games in the Bronx, the Yankees weren't able to take advantage of any walks from Blue Jays pitchers. That had been an ugly trend in the last two losses for Toronto (79-77), which issued 18 free passes over that span and saw 12 of those turn into costly runs for New York.
Litsch, who ranks second to only ace Roy Halladay in Toronto's rotation in fewest walks per nine innings, didn't hand any freebies to the Yankees over his 7 2/3 innings. In fact, the 22-year-old right-hander threw three balls to a batter on just one occasion -- in a second-inning meeting with New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
"That's the name of the game," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "You have to take your chances and you have to use your defense. The worst thing you can do is come in here and worry about who's at the plate and who's on deck.
"If you attack the zone, that's no guarantee that they're going to get a hit every time."
New York (90-66) didn't collect its first hit until the third inning, when first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz doubled to right field with one out, only to be stranded as Litsch escaped unscathed. Litsch allowed another double in the fourth inning but once again found a way to halt a potential rally.
All in all, Litsch (7-9) scattered five hits, but none that knocked in New York's lone run. That came in the sixth inning, when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter crossed home plate on a groundout by Rodriguez. By that time, Toronto had already built a 4-0 lead against New York starter Andy Pettitte (14-9).
"He handled a pretty good lineup," said Gibbons, who was impressed with how Litsch attacked the strike zone. "I know [Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] stressed that before the game. He said, 'Hey, if they beat you, make them beat you pounding the ball -- don't let it be because of walks.'"
Walks are what hurt Litsch in his previous two meetings against the Yankees this season. In those outings, he combined to issue five free passes and was drilled for eight runs on 10 hits over just 5 2/3 innings. In his first career start at Yankee Stadium, though, Litsch simply let his defense go to work.
Through the first five innings, Litsch induced 12 outs on grounders -- all coming in the final 13 outs over that span. By the time Gibbons strolled to the mound in the eighth to call it a day for the pitcher, Litsch had registered just one strikeout but had forced the Yankees to ground into 17 outs.
"That's always the game plan," Litsch said. "I'm a guy who throws a lot of strikes, so I'm expecting them to swing. That's what I want them to do. I just try to get them to hit a lot of ground balls and pop flies, which is what I did today."
In the eighth inning, Litsch allowed a two-out double to Bobby Abreu and was subsequently lifted in favor of right-hander Casey Janssen. After Janssen allowed a single to Rodriguez to put runners on the corners, the reliever forced Hideki Matstui to fly out to end the frame.
Janssen then set down the side in order in the ninth inning to preserve the stellar outing by Litsch, who proved to be a nuisance for the Yankees on such short notice.
"I got told last night," Litsch said. "So, I was just trying to go out and just pitch my game, as opposed to trying to study."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.