The Toronto Blue Jays are building momentum for 2008: a winning record, a third-place finish and a developing young rotation behind staff ace Roy Halladay. The emergence of rookie Jesse Litsch as one of those young rotation members has been another cause for optimism as he makes his final start of the season Saturday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Blue Jays (82-78) guaranteed themselves a winning season for the second straight year on Friday after a 5-4 victory, their eighth in the last 11 games. While Toronto will not finish better than its 2006 mark of 87-75, it is the first time the franchise has enjoyed consecutive seasons above .500 since 1998-2000.
Dustin McGowan struck out six in six innings, defeating the Devil Rays (65-95) for the second time this month and notching his 12th victory. The 25-year-old is hoping to emulate Halladay and help the Blue Jays develop a strong front-end rotation.
“I want to be one of those 200-inning guys,” said McGowan, a third-year right-hander. “Towards the end of the season I felt pretty worn down so that’s my goal, to get bigger and stronger.”
Litsch (7-9, 3.94 ERA)—first called up in mid-May and again in July—has had mixed results since the All-Star break, going 6-6 with a 3.70 ERA. The 22-year-old limited the New York Yankees to one run in 7 2-3 innings of a 4-1 victory on Monday and has allowed only two runs in 14 1-3 innings in the two victories.
“I’m a guy who throws a lot of strikes, so I’m expecting them to swing,” said Litsch, who induced 17 groundball outs, to Toronto’s official Web site. “That’s what I want them to do. I just try to get them to hit a lot of ground balls and pop flies, which is what I did today.”
The right-hander turned in one of his best efforts at Tampa Bay on July 31, scattering seven hits and one walk in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-0 victory. Litsch, though, also lost to the Devil Rays on Sept. 9, giving up three solo homers in five-plus innings of a 3-2 defeat.
Carlos Pena continued his torrid September with his 12th homer this month and 45th overall. Pena set a franchise record for homers in any month, bettering the mark of Jonny Gomes established in April 2006.
Pena has homered in three straight games, but is only 10-for-47 (.213) with four homers and 19 strikeouts against the Blue Jays in 2007.
Edwin Jackson (5-15, 5.96) tries to finish on a positive note and win consecutive starts in the same season for the first time in his career. The right-hander snapped a personal three-game losing streak Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, allowing three runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-4 victory.
Jackson, who can match his career-high win total with a victory, is 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA in four starts versus the Blue Jays this year.