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09/23/09 7:16 PM ET

Litsch making strides in recovery

Injured righty spending final homestand with Blue Jays

TORONTO -- The season might be nearing an end for the Blue Jays, but things are just beginning for right-hander Jesse Litsch. After months of monotonous rehabilitation, the sidelined pitcher is nearing a big step in his journey back to Toronto's rotation.

On Oct. 2, Litsch can play catch.

"That'll be my first day with a baseball," Litsch said with a smile.

Expected to be the Blue Jays' No. 2 arm behind ace Roy Halladay this season, Litsch injured his right elbow and was lost for the year after undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in June. Litsch is back in uniform with the ballclub this week, taking time to catch up with his teammates during Toronto's last homestand of 2009.

Most of Litsch's time has been spent back home in Florida this season, recovering from an injury that further forced the Blue Jays into a youth movement on the mound. The 24-year-old starter said he watched as many games as he could while away from the team, and seeing Toronto limp to fourth place in the American League East frustrated him as much as anyone else.

"It's been a tough year for all of us," Litsch said. "I'm sitting at home yelling at the TV just as much as they're yelling at it here. It's one of those things where you've got to finish strong right now and push for next year."

Litsch, who won 13 games for the Blue Jays in 2008, is hoping to make a swift and strong return to the rotation. Considering that Litsch went under the knife on June 12 -- a surgery performed by renowned arm specialist Dr. James Andrews -- the Blue Jays do not expect him to be ready to rejoin the team until May or June at the earliest.

Litsch said he has no doubt that he can return and be the type of pitcher he was before the injury.

"That's another confidence thing," Litsch said. "If you come back with the same confidence, you're going to be the same guy. Mentally, I'm there. That's going to be there. It's all about how I come back physically, and from what I hear, it's going to be stronger. That's what I'm hoping for."

For a while, Litsch was dealing with more confusion than confidence, though.

During a start against the Twins on April 13, Litsch felt pain shoot through his arm after striking out Justin Morneau in the fourth inning with a four-seam fastball. The Blue Jays shut him down for 10 days and Litsch still felt discomfort in his arm while playing catch at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago the weekend of April 24-26.

That prompted a visit with Dr. Andrews, who found no ligament damage after studying the results of an MRI exam on Litsch's elbow. Litsch continued on a throwing program, but still felt sore over the next month, leading to another meeting with Andrews. An MRI exam this time revealed a slight tear of the ligament in Litsch's elbow.

Andrews still was not convinced that Litsch needed surgery.

"He found a slight tear that time," Litsch said. "They say on MRIs it's hit or miss. You can miss them. He found it that time and he said, 'It's probably been there a little while and you've been throwing, so let's try to push through it and see what happens.'"

After the pitcher still experienced pain during a throwing session in early June, Litsch decided that surgery might be the best option. Litsch said having the operation actually brought a sense of relief, knowing that he could go forward without wondering what was wrong.

"It's a relief just in the sense of being where I'm at now and I feel really strong," he said. "It's a 95-percent recovery rate -- maybe even higher now -- so it's one of those things where I'm not really worried about it. I'm going to come back strong."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.