Jesse Litsch is a man of few words and many pitches. A 23-year-old right-hander, Litsch has quietly emerged as a dependable member of the Blue Jays‘ starting rotation, relying on an ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls. Litsch began last season in Double-A, but by season’s end had established himself in the big leagues by posting a 3.87 ERA in 111 innings. David talked to Litsch–and to Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg–about Litsch’s repertoire and approach on the mound.
David Laurila: Give us a quick scouting report on yourself as a pitcher.
Jesse Litsch: I like to go after everybody. I’m aggressive and attack the zone, basically trying to make them hit the ball. I’ve got a four-seam fastball that cuts, a two-seamer/sinker, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball.
DL: Has your repertoire evolved over the past few seasons?
JL: I mean, it’s basically been the same. I’m just starting to throw everything more now and work everything throughout the strike zone equally.
DL: What is your go-to pitch right now?
JL: I’d say everything. I can pretty much throw everything for a strike when I need to. Obviously, your fastball is your best pitch, but everything has to be thrown for a strike here.
DL: Can you describe your two-seamer?
JL: I just hold it across the two seams and it sinks down and in to a righty, basically.
DL: I believe that you’re throwing a cutter this year?
JL: Yeah, it’s my four-seamer. It cuts and goes away from a righty–down and away from a righty. The movement is just something natural that comes to it.
DL: I’ve read that when you were in Double-A, Dave LaRoche had you put your slider away and just use it a couple of times per game.
JL: Yeah, that definitely helped me out because it helped me to throw my curveball more. It helped me to make it a better pitch. I could always throw the slider for strikes.
DL: Did you make any specific adjustments with your curveball?
JL: No, it was just by practice, working on it, throwing it day in and day out–just fine tuning it. I threw it in college, so simply throwing it was the big thing.
DL: When you look at the pitching coaches you’ve worked with, what are the primary things you’ve learned from each of them?
JL: Just being able to learn the game from them–learn different approaches and sequences; just working around different hitters.
DL: Brad Arnsberg is your pitching coach here. What have you learned from him?
JL: Basically mechanics; mechanics are big, so if there’s some little glitch, he’ll find it and we’ll fix it.
DL: What have you learned from Roy Halladay?
JL: How to approach the game. He approaches the game all out, so his demeanor on the mound and everything makes him who he is.
DL: You said earlier that you try to induce contact. What adjustments do you make when the strikes you’re throwing are getting hit hard?
JL: I just try to locate a little better and keep the hitters off balance a little more. Maybe I switch my sequence up.
DL: You came close to throwing a few no-hitters in the minor leagues. How hard is it to stay with your game and not to try to avoid bats in those situations?
JL: If they’re going to get a hit, it’s going to happen. It’s one of them things, so you just try to hope that they hit it to a fielder. That’s all you can hope for there.
DL: Do you attack right-handed and left-handed hitters pretty much the same way?
JL: It varies. It depends on who’s hitting, but for the most part, whatever is working that day is going to work.
DL: How much attention do you pay to charts?
JL: I’m getting big into it. It’s definitely a different ballgame up here. You’ve got to take charge of yourself, and take charge of everyone else, and see what’s working for you and everyone else.
DL: How headstrong are you on the mound regarding pitch selection?
JL: Me and the catchers pretty much have a good idea of what to throw at the same time. We keep everything together.
JL: I’m not very familiar with it, but you can only do what you can do that day. But this game is about winning. That’s one of the main things about this game: we’re out here trying to win every day.
Brad Arnsberg is in his fourth season as the Blue Jays pitching coach. A veteran of six big league seasons as a player, the 44-year-old Arnsberg was a coach with the Marlins (2002-03) and Expos (2000-01) prior to coming to Toronto.
DL: Give us a quick scouting report on Jesse Litsch.
Brad Arnsberg: Jesse has the natural cutter. He doesn’t really know how to throw a baseball straight. I’ve actually had him try to throw a true four-seamer, and he struggles to throw the ball straight. So he has a natural cutter to both halves of the plate. He’ll take it down and in to that lefty, at his hands and above his hands. He can cut it in, back door it, or throw it over the middle of the plate. He’s got a very good sinker that I’m trying to encourage him to really hone in on and get over the plate. Even when it’s straight, he can throw it 91, so they have to defend against it. They get so cutter-oriented that when they have to defend against that sinker it’s fine even if it’s straight. He’s got a good curveball, a good slider, and a good changeup. He throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of groundballs. He just changes speeds like nobody else, for the most part.
DL: How do you like him to mix his pitches in most games?
BA: He knows how we’re attacking the hitters; he knows what their weaknesses are and what his strengths are. It’s not where he’s going to do this on one night and something else five nights later. He’s basically the same guy. He goes out there and attacks. His strike pitch is his natural cutter, but he hits on his curveball. He’s really a five-pitch guy that isn’t afraid to use any of them in any count.
DL: When he’s not going well, what does the conversation tend to be when you go out to the mound?
BA: It’s usually, ‘get back to your sinker, man. They’re starting to lean out and over, and maybe they’re getting your game down a little bit. Start mixing your changeup a little more–something that’s moving from left to right rather than always right to left.’ His curveball works right to left, his cutter works right to left. Looking at a pitcher from the center field camera, all his slider, curveball and cutter all work right to left. Get that ball sinking left to right with that changeup and sinker. When he gets in trouble, he’s usually getting away from his sinker, so trusting his sinker is probably the biggest adjustment he’s made.