Red Sox rough up Litsch

Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch reacts after giving up a 2-RBI single to the Red Sox at Fenway Park...

Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch reacts after giving up a 2-RBI single to the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass. on April 17, 2011. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:42 PM ET

BOSTON — The easy part is bringing Brandon Morrow back to the rotation.

The harder part is deciding who to send the other way.

Following Jo-Jo Reyes’ woeful outing in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Boston — seven hits, five walks and four runs in three-plus innings — it seemed rather elementary.

But along came Jesse Litsch on Sunday to muddy the waters.

Litsch’s outing was a strange one as he was pounded around in two of his innings and almost perfect in the other four.

An way you slice it, it ended in a convincing 8-1 victory for the Red Sox and guaranteed that the Jays would end the road trip with a losing record. After nine games, the Jays are 3-6 with one game left beginning Monday morning on Boston Marathon day.

After a scoreless first, Litsch, 1-1, was ripped for four runs in the second on four consecutive hits, the big blow being a three-run homer to right by No. 9 hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, a mighty blast that easily cleared the bullpens. It was a fastball right down broadway, a fat pitch that Ellsbury didn’t miss.

With Jon Lester going for the Red Sox, that was the game, right there.

“We don’t make a pitch to Ellsbury for the three-run homer, then we have a chance to get out of the inning (sixth) where they score another couple of runs (unearned), late,” manager John Farrell said. “Lester was his usual self and it was touch to generate multiple base runners and tack on many runs after the steal attempt in the second inning.”

After that Litsch retired the next 13 Boston batters in a row until with two out in the sixth, the Red Sox went single, E-5, walk, two-run single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia to run the score to 6-1.

Reyes will almost certainly be given the boot out of the rotation upon Morrow’s return next week but Litsch could have made it a certainty with a better effort.

Putting the brakes on potential big innings is crucial at the major-league level and Litsch was able to do that in Houdini-like fashion in his previous start against Seattle when he miraculously didn’t allow a run over five innings, despite allowing five hits and walking four.

The difference?

“The lineup,” Farrell said.

But where the Mariners failed, the Red Sox pounced.

“It comes down to pitch execution,” Farrell said. “He leaves a ball in the middle of the plate to Ellsbury and in the sixth, they get the extra out and then on the last pitch (to Saltalamacchia) he didn’t get down and in far enough. You give up six runs in six innings and you’re playing catch-up.”

It takes a thief

Perhaps in his other life Farrell was a master thief, a cat burglar extraordinaire. How else to explain a former pitcher’s fascination and devotion to the running game?

The second inning was another example as the Jays literally stole a run. With two out and runners on the corners and Jayson Nix at the plate, Juan Rivera took off toward second on Jon Lester’s first pitch. It was a ruse, of course, as on Saltalamacchia’s throw to second, Rivera applied the brakes as Aaron Hill steamed home from third. Rivera was caught in the rundown but the run scored giving the Jays a brief 1-0 lead.

The thinking against Lester was obvious — take them while you can.

Running up-hill

Three hours before game time, there was Hill, down the left field line doing side-to-side running drills under the watchful eye of trainer George Poulis and his manager. What’s up?

“He felt a little soreness on the outside of his right knee,” Farrell said about his second baseman. “I think it’s more weather related, as cold as it has been the last couple of days. He’s been aggressive on the base paths (running hard on his double in Saturday’s loss and infield single in the ninth) and felt a little tightness on the outside of the (knee) joint. He went through some agility tests and he’s fine and in the lineup.”

Farrell added that what Hill was feeling was not in any way related to the quad injury he suffered during spring training.

After going 3-for-24 through the opening six games of the road trip, Hill has bounced back and has gone 6-for-10 the past three games.

“He’s had real good swings the past few games,” Farrell said. “He’s seen more pitches and walked a few times. I think that’s a sign of a little bit more confidence in the box in knowing at some point in the at-bat that you’re going to get a pitch, if it’s not the first couple of pitches in the at-bats.”

Hill’s average, which had dipped down to .170 just three games back, is headed back up (.246), but after 14 games he has yet to hit a home run. Batting fifth in Farrell’s lineup, he is expected to add some pop and so far there has been none.

“I think hard contact is the first thing you look for and he’s had that here,” said Farrell, ever the optimist. “I think he’s feeling a little bit more sure of himself and that production will soon follow.”

Last year when Hill was struggling mightily the comeback was: ‘Yeah, but at least he’s hitting home runs.’

You can’t say that this year.


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