Litsch's return date remains in limbo
Confounding elbow issues a mystery to Jays' braintrust
TORONTO -- The curious case of Jesse Litsch has started to baffle the Blue Jays. Six weeks after injuring his right elbow, the pitcher is still complaining of some intermittent soreness, creating a situation where trying to nail down a possible return date is practically impossible.
"I couldn't tell you if I had a crystal ball," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.
Litsch, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list and rehabbing at the Jays' training facility in Florida, met with renowned arm specialist Dr. James Andrews last week at the surgeon's office in Pensacola, Fla. It marked Litsch's second sit-down with Andrews since the starter injured his arm on April 13 and both meetings produced the same result.
Each time, an MRI exam performed on Litsch's throwing elbow has revealed no ligament damage, ruling out the need for a Tommy John ligament-replacement procedure. That being the case, the Blue Jays have instructed Litsch to resume throwing on a mound and the right-hander is tentatively scheduled to begin pitching in extended Spring Training games later this week.
"He's just going to go back and throw and we'll hope that he's OK," Gaston said. "He's just going to go back and really go at it hard, and if he still continues to have some problems, then there might be consideration to do something."
That's the problem Toronto is currently facing. The organization has no way of knowing whether surgery will be necessary, but Litsch continues to complain about discomfort every so often. That being the case, the Jays believe they have little choice but to keep Litsch on his throwing program with the hope that the pain will eventually subside.
"It's kind of the same thing -- nothing's really changed," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "One day he feels good and one day he doesn't feel good, so we're just going to let him keep pitching until he doesn't feel good. If a guy is complaining he's sore, there's got to be a reason why he's sore.
"They just haven't been able to figure out exactly what's going on," Ricciardi added. "You just wish the injury would go one way or the other. ... If he felt bad all the time, then maybe we could think about an operation."
Gaston said shutting the pitcher down isn't an option at this point.
"He's going to continue to go," Gaston said. "We have to really see what it's going to amount to. To back him off, we'd never know anything."
Litsch, 24, entered the season as the Blue Jays' No. 2 starter, as he was pushed up the depth chart with the losses of Shaun Marcum (right elbow) and Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) to injury and A.J. Burnett's departure to the Yankees in free agency. Last year, in his second season with Toronto, Litsch went 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA over 29 games.
On April 13, Litsch pulled himself out of a starter on the road against the Twins after throwing 50 pitches over just three innings. In his two outings this year, the right-hander had allowed nine runs on 14 hits over nine innings. After Litsch was placed on the DL on April 14, the Jays decided to move left-hander Brian Tallet out of the bullpen and into the rotation.
Overall this year, the Jays have used 10 different starting pitchers, including four rookies and Tallet, who had only six career starts within 152 big league games prior to this season. Despite that level of inexperience and the loss of Litsch, Toronto entered Tuesday with a 4.28 ERA -- the fifth-best mark in the American League.
That showing has helped overcome losing Litsch for what is now an undetermined amount of time.
"I was looking at it today and we're [fifth] in the American League in pitching," Ricciardi said. "Let's put our cards on the table, there isn't anybody here who would've said we'd be [fifth] in the American League in pitching on June 1. Obviously, all those guys have helped.
"Every one of those guys has helped us. We've been fortunate, and hopefully, we'll just keep developing guys and keep putting them out there and give us a chance when we need them."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.