|RH J. Litsch
|RH J. Shields
RH Jessie Litsch, Toronto-Former Rays batboy and Pinellas Park native Jessie Litsch gets the call from Toronto to start the opening game of this series, the first between these two clubs this season. Litsch made his major league debut last season after a short stint with the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats and two starts with the AAA Syracuse Chiefs, and stuck in the rotation for the remainder of the seaosn. Though some of his minor league strikeout numbers are gaudy, he doesn't really project as a strikeout pitcher in the major leagues. He was able to succeed in 20 starts last year by limiting his walks and generally not getting hit very hard. He did benefit from a bit of luck as well in putting up a 3.81 ERA, and if he can avoid getting hit hard in the major leagues, he will be fine. The one thing he cannot continue to do is keep as low a strikeout rate as he did last year. He got by on a 4.05 K/9 last year, but his luck will not persist at that rate. Even though Litsch is a fairly decent control pitcher, that low strikeout rate meant a K:BB of just 1.39. His BABIP portends some regression this year, and he'll need a better strikeout rate to offset the damage that regression will do to his pitching line.
Thus far in 2008, Litsch is pitching up to that challenge. Though his ERA is up to 4.60 in his first three starts, he is striking out close to seven batters per nine innings, and his decent walk rate has held steady. All of this while his BABIP is up drastically to .359, meaning he is actually quite unlucky. The fact of the matter is that Litsch is a pitcher who will need to pitch to contact to succeed. With his sinker, Litsch has proven to be a pretty reliable groundball pitcher so far, having amassed a G:F of 1.38 in his young career. But like any young pitcher with an inconsistent sinker, he is prone to the long ball. And if his sinker rises up in the zone, he will give up a lot of home run balls.
Overall, Litsch isn't going to be a top of the rotation starter. He'll probably settle in as a No. 4 or 5, but he can be a good back-end guy. He has been a pleasant find for a Blue Jays organization thin on pitching prospects over the last several years, and you can't help but want a local guy to succeed.
RH Jamie Shields, RAYS-A frustrating start last time out leaves the Rays' Jamie Shields looking for redemption as he takes to the mound in Orlando this evening. He had an agonizing outing last Wednesday in Minnesota against the Twins, throwing just five innings and giving up five runs, two of them unearned. What was frustrating about it was how little the Rays defense acted in support of him. Poor range, a throwing error on a would-be inning-ending play by SS Jason Bartlett, and a slew of baserunning and plate discipline issues from the starting lineup all contributed to a frustrating 6-5 loss. Still, even despite that outing, Shields has pitched well through four starts this year. He has helped compensate for the loss of RHP Matt Garza and LHP Scott Kazmir with his pitching, and hopefully he continues on the present tract.
Unfortunately for Shields, certain things will have to change for him to remain on that course. His strikeout rates are down and his walk rates are up from last year, and thus his K:BB has nearly halved. It is still a respectable 2.67, but that is not up to the Shields standard. And while Shields has been fairly unlucky on balls in play so far this season, he has also been extremely lucky on home runs. He has surrendered just one over his 23 innings of work, despite the fact that his G:F is about even. That 3.3% HR/FB ratio is bound to progress to the mean eventually, and given his history of trouble with the long ball, it will probably happen sooner rather than later.