Jesse Litsch and Scott Richmond are brothers in arms for the Toronto Blue Jays who have both experienced their share of trouble trying to establish major-league pitching careers.
So it made sense when Richmond started to struggle on the mound this season that he turned to Litsch for counselling.
"I went through this same thing last year," Litsch said before Richmond made his 21st start of the season last night against the Baltimore Orioles. "I started out 7-1 last year and went through the rough patch."
Entering the series finale against the Orioles, Richmond's own rough patch was an 0-5 record and an unseemly 8.92 earned run average in the eight starts since returning to the Toronto lineup after a month-long stint on the disabled list with bicep tendinitis.
Richmond took what he hopes to be the first step in his salvation, hanging tough for five innings to earn the victory as the Blue Jays (69-83) emerged with a 7-3 victory over the Orioles (60-92) before 13,743 at Rogers Centre.
It wasn't a great outing - three runs off five hits, two of them home runs, to go along with four walks - but it was certainly better than the alternative.
"It was an improvement from the previous [outings] but there's still work to be done," said Richmond, 7-10. "I'd like to go from struggling to lights out, but it just doesn't work like that."
The night did not get off to a smooth start for Richmond, who gave up a two-run homer to Michael Aubrey that provided Baltimore with a 2-0 lead in the second. Matt Wieters crunched another home run off Richmond in the fifth, but that was it for the Baltimore offence.
The Jays had more than enough offence to counter, doing much of their damage in a three-run fourth.
With the victory, the Blue Jays earned a three-game series sweep, their first clean series slate since mid-June against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Richmond, a native of North Vancouver, B.C., came out of relative obscurity last season to make five starts for the Blue Jays and then made the team this season out of spring training.
But 2009 has been mostly a grind for the 30-year-old, who had lost six decisions in a row heading into last night's contest.
"He's called me a couple times," said Litsch, who is convalescing from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery he had in June. "You've got to stay mentally focused. You can't overemphasize everything and overthink it. It's just one of those things you've got to go out and be the same guy.
"He's here for a reason. He's going to do his thing. It's just one of those things, he has to go out there with the same mentality every time and just play the game."
Litsch experienced a similar swoon last season. He started the season 7-1 but then went 1-6 over his next nine starts, prompting the Jays to demote him to Triple A for a refresher course.
This year, beginning the year as Toronto's No.2 starter in the rotation behind Roy Halladay, Litsch developed a pinch in his right elbow.
That led to the surgery in June and Litsch won't even begin a throwing program until early next month. He is not expected to be ready to rejoin the Blue Jays until two or three months into next season at the earliest.
Litsch, who is in Toronto this week for a visit, said he has had to content himself following his teams trials and tribulations on television from his home in Florida. "I'm frustrated just like they are," Litsch said. "I'm sitting at home yelling at the TV just as much as they're yelling out here."
NOTES The playing time of Randy Ruiz has dropped off since the Toronto Blue Jays brought the slugger up from Triple A on Aug. 11. Since Sept. 11, the 31-year-old rookie has played in just six games (four starts). A designated hitter by trade, Ruiz can also play first base. Toronto manager Cito Gaston said he has had trouble squeezing him into the lineup. Ruiz, who hit seven home runs in his first 23 games, has been working on his outfield skills but Gaston didn't exactly sound optimistic about that as a future landing spot. "I haven't heard too good of stuff about that," Gaston said. "I haven't seen him play out there but I've asked a few guys and they went, 'Ahhh, I don't know.' So we'll see." … Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays leads the majors with a .421 batting average since Sept. 6.
NEXT Thursday, Seattle Mariners at Toronto, 7:07 p.m. EDT.
PROBABLE PITCHERS Jays LHP Ricky Romero (12-9, 4.28) v. Mariners RHP Felix Hernandez (16-5, 2.45).
TV Rogers Sportsnet.
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