New approach sends Jays past Reds
Lineup, Litsch lead Toronto to big victory in series finale
TORONTO -- One of the reasons the Blue Jays brought in Cito Gaston to manage the team was to shake up their dormant offense. It's been a broken record for most of the year, but the fact remains that while the pitching staff has been carrying Toronto, the offense has dragged the team to the bottom of the division standings.
Following a recent loss, Gaston said he would make a point to speak to his hitters about their collective approach at the plate. The Jays manager made true on his promise prior to Thursday's game against the Reds, holding a brief meeting with his offensive players.
Whatever was said in the meeting seemed to work, as the Blue Jays came out in full force to defeat the Reds, 7-1, at Rogers Centre. Toronto hitters provided ample support for starter Jesse Litsch, who stifled Cincinnati on his way to delivering a masterful performance.
"He's been talking pretty much every day since he's been here," said Vernon Wells of Gaston. "Just relax, go up there and get your pitch, and take your chances. Treat the situations -- that there's runners on third with less than two outs -- the same as you would any other situation. Don't try to do anything more or anything less. Just go out and try to have a good at-bat, and whatever happens after that, happens."
For the Blue Jays (38-42) to apply such an approach on Thursday seemed a tough enough task with Reds starter Edinson Volquez toeing the rubber. Volquez (10-3) entered the game leading the Major Leagues in ERA and strikeouts and placing second in the National League in wins.
"We were watching the tapes [of Volquez] before the game," said Jays catcher Gregg Zaun. "And everybody was like, 'Ooh and ahh and wow,' watching the velocity and movement on his pitches.
"But give our hitters a lot of credit -- guys came out ready to swing the bats. We've been a little more aggressive lately."
Wells, who had two RBIs in the game, had similar thoughts.
"He's one of the best starters in the National League this year," said Wells. "It's just a matter of having a plan and executing it. The guys were putting balls in play. And that's the thing, when you have a guy who's pretty much leading baseball in strikeouts, you've got to go up there and try not to do too much. The guys did their jobs when they needed to."
Against Volquez, Toronto jumped out to an early lead in the second inning, when Scott Rolen launched a 1-1 changeup deep into the left-center-field stands for a two-run home run.
Perhaps a more important hit, though, came in the third inning, when Lyle Overbay came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Overbay had faced the same situation a night before, but he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
On Thursday, however, the results were different. Overbay scorched a single into right field that plated two runs and gave the Jays a commanding 5-0 lead.
"With that hit there, that kind of put the nail in the coffin. And those add-on runs are huge, especially in situations like that," said Wells. "That's something that we obviously haven't done throughout the year. It seems like things are getting better, and we have to continue to have good at-bats in those situations."
The beneficiary of the Toronto runs was Litsch (8-4), although for most of the night it looked as though the right-hander didn't need much. Litsch, who now is tied with Roy Halladay for the team lead in wins, induced 12 groundouts and allowed just one run on three hits over eight innings. He walked one while striking out six.
Litsch's performance was a reversal of fortune from his previous four starts. Over that span, dating back to June 4, he was 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA. The righty had allowed a total of 17 earned runs in just 23 2/3 innings during the stretch, with opponents hitting .330 off him.
"It's been a battle up until now," Litsch said. "Me and [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] worked heavily during my last bullpen session. [We] just worked on getting over top of the ball and making everything down in the zone."
On Thursday, Zaun, who was behind the plate, saw the version of Litsch that had gone 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA over seven games from late April to the end of May.
"He threw strike one," Zaun said. "He threw strike one all night long with a lot of different pitches. Another thing about it is that he had every single pitch in his arsenal working and was throwing all for strikes tonight."
Following the game, Reds (36-44) manager Dusty Baker also marveled at the Toronto starter's dominance.
"He was masterful," Baker said. "He's probably the best No. 5 starter we've seen. He mixed breaking balls, cutters, changeups, and then when he catches you looking for that, he could throw the fastball by us. The young man threw a great game on their side."
David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.