Toronto Blue Jays: Losing Litsch Is a Loss for More Than Just the Jays

Jeffrey RobertsCorrespondent IJune 14, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 27:  Jesse Litsch #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during the MLB game against the Kansas City Royals on April 27, 2008 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Before I turned out the necessary Roy Halladay article (by necessary I mean that writing anything else before dealing with that would have been near sacrilege), I was working on another angle.

I was writing about a player who needs more things written about him before we forget.

His name is Jesse Litsch.

I was watching during his first start against the Baltimore Orioles. The big story was his father sitting in the stands; and he won the game for the Jays in convincing fashion, pitching the most innings ever by a Blue Jays first-time starter.

Frankly, I didn't really care. I was rattled that Halladay wasn't pitching, and I figured that Litsch would be bussed back to Double-A before I had a chance to figure out how to spell his last name.

Somehow the kid stuck. He started pitching like a pro, and found himself in the rotation. Suddenly his story struck a chord with me.

Here was a guy who had been handing bats to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, before they decided to disparage Satan and ditch the "Devil." Litsch is practically the inspiration for any man who watched a sport and thought, "I'm better than these bums."

With every start I enjoyed his pitching more. He was whatever the baseball equivalent of getting to the point was.

Litsch threw strikes. He didn't walk a lot of guys. He pitched to contact and worked faster than the Flash on Friday (the Flash is faster than Superman, obviously).

He didn't have the greatest stuff, and his margin of error was perilously small (sometimes it was a 50-50 shot whether or not he'd get rocked or not), but I was rooting for him.

Litsch represented a kind of player that is hard to find. He was drafted low enough that he had none of the pampered, spoiled nature of other major leaguers. He was happy for every start and he worked like hell to win it.

I pictured him as a mini-Halladay, in stuff and stature. He was like a pitbull that had locked its jaws onto the Jays leg and refused to let go.

With my formerly favourite Jay, Troy Glaus, becoming an Arch-enemy of the Jays in St. Louis (GET IT?!?!?), I became a devout Litsch fan.

My family and friends chastised me in believing in the little guy, but they barely understand the definition of chastise so I wasn’t too worried.

To half-quote Hunter S. Thompson, Major League Baseball has become decadent and depraved; yet Jesse Litsch represented a guy who was making a fraction of other pitchers salaries, and delivered better statistics than them with none of the privileged attitude.

Jesse Litsch outpitched the Barry Zitos, Jason Schmidts, and Tim Hudsons of MLB (not that everyone else did as well), for a fraction of the price.

Even A.J. Burnett, the crown jewel of the J.P. "I've Got Money to Burn" Ricciardi era, was outdone by Litsch. Burnett was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA and 231 K's (which lead the league) last year.

Litsch posted a 13-9 record with a 3.58 ERA. His strikeouts couldn't match Burnett's, but he topped A.J. by only giving up 39 walks to Burnett's 86. Granted, Burnett was pitching more innings, but Litsch was just more efficient on the mound.

At the time, A.J. Burnett was being paid enough that he could buy Litsch out of his contract and get him to clean his pool if he wanted to. Yet Litsch was delivering on a level that equalled some of the more decadent contracts of MLB.

In a season where a big theme is of the kids stepping up for the Toronto Blue Jays, it hurts to not see Litsch out there. J.P. Ricciardi has done an excellent job drafting the Blue Jays pitching staff in years past, and Litsch had battled his way into that rotation.

When players like Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan got hurt, we knew we still had Litsch to rely on. Now he's gone, for long enough that he may find himself buried upon return

Think about it.

With pitchers like Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond proving their worth, Brett Cecil and Bobby Ray showing they have chops worthy of the bigs, and McGowan and Marcum due for return before Litsch, innings will be scarce.

This was going to be the year that Litsch proved himself to be a rotational cornerstone, and now he's headed for DL Limbo. When he comes back, the fight for a spot in the rotation will be intense.

MLB needs more players like Jesse Litsch. If there was ever a feel-good movie to be made about this Jays squad it would probably be about Litsch (unfortunately for the screenwriters of "Glove Triangle: The John McDonald Story"). He's like if Rudy Ruettiger's dad watched Blue Jays games instead of Notre Dame. 

Knowing that there's people like you and me that are succeeding in professional sports is a good feeling. And that's not detracting anything from Litsch, I'm saying that in a sports world where 6'5'' monsters lurk, it's good to see a normal sized human play well.

Jesse Litsch deserved better than elbow pain, and I'll always cheer for him. 

But the game marches on without him.


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