Jesse Litsch - Will Strike You Out, Then Pick Up Your Bat
To Blue Jays fans, and probably anyone watching, Jesse Litsch’s major league debut on May 15, 2007 is a performance they won’t soon forget. Litsch was called up from AA to replace an injured Roy Halladay, and gave Toronto an outing that much more resembled that of a healthy Roy Halladay. With his father flown in to watch, Litsch’s day finished with a win over Baltimore in which he allowed only one run on four hits, and came only an out short of pitching a complete game, leaving to a long standing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd of nearly 31,000 people. Perhaps even more impressive than this day on the mound is where it came from. This game came only two months after Litsch’s 22nd birthday, and though it was his first major league start, he was already well known to then Orioles Chris Gomez and Aubrey Huff. Not so long before that game, they had already become well acquainted with a teenage Litsch, as he served as their bat boy when they played for the Devil Rays in Litsch’s hometown of Tampa. In less than five years, Jesse Litsch had gone from major league bat boy to major league starting pitcher.
Litsch has risen fast through the Blue Jays organization, needing only two full minor league seasons to climb the ranks, claiming a spot in the starting rotation full time in 2008, when he won 13 games. He will be relied upon heavily this year, as he will be expected to move from the fifth starter to carry the load of the number two starter after A.J. Burnett left for free agency, and with Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan both likely to miss the entire season with injuries. For this season to be a success, he will need to build on what has worked in the past. Litsch does not throw fire, with his fastball topping out in the low 90's; however he relies heavily on control and location, and gets a lot of ground outs. He walked only 39 batters last year, which was one of the lowest totals in the major leagues, and posted a very respectable 3.58 ERA, with two complete games - both of which were shutouts.
Litsch has also improved his commitment to physical fitness in his offseasons, and has lost some of the extra pounds that early in his career combined with his young age to make him vaguely resemble a giant baby wearing a baseball uniform. As much as his major league debut was a very good Roy Halladay impersonation, and though they’ll never be mistaken for each other (Halladay is five inches taller, and often looks like he just walked out of a log cabin in the mountains, while Litsch’s youth, and red-headed baby-faced appearance have given way to his “Opie” nickname), Litsch’s composure and intensity on the mound has often been likened to the former Cy Young winner who can strike a batter out with his eyes before he even throws the ball. Though not a Cy Young winner himself yet, Litsch endeared himself quickly to Blue Jays fans with his magical major league debut, friendly demeanor with fans and media, volunteering at baseball camps in the city, hard work on and off the field, and success on a major league diamond at an age where most young men are just realizing that a mohawk will not always be a viable haircut for them, and that beer is not a food group.