TORONTO — Jesse Litsch is starting to think about life beyond pitching, perhaps scouting or coaching, something to keep him in the game.
At this point, with throws from 60 to 70 feet still triggering pain and an appointment with a cartilage specialist looming, he has to examine every possibility.
The cold truth for the 27-year-old right-hander is that his arm’s calamitous decline since a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in his shoulder went terribly wrong back in February may prevent him from ever getting healthy enough to pitch again.
“You have to be a realist when it comes to this stuff,” Listch says during an interview Thursday. “When your arm is telling you that you can’t throw, you have to fix me or I can’t really do what you’re asking me to do, you definitely start thinking.
“I still want to play, I don’t want to give up, I’m not one to give up. If it comes to where I can’t play anymore, I’ll have to figure something out. But I want to keep trying until my body tells me I can’t.”
That’s in part why the Toronto Blue Jays parted ways with him last week, when Litsch elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster.
With Litsch eligible for arbitration again after earning US$975,000 this season, of dubious status moving forward, and a roster crunch coming, general manager Alex Anthopoulos had little choice but to make a difficult business decision on the 24th-round pick in 2004.
The Blue Jays’ 40-man roster is at capacity after Thursday’s waiver addition of right-hander Tyson Brummett from the Philadelphia Phillies, which followed Wednesday’s claims of outfielder Scott Cousins from the Miami Marlins and right-hander Cory Wade from the New York Yankees.
Room must still be made for the six players currently on the club’s 60-day disabled list, plus any prospects from the 2008 draft the team wants to protect by Nov. 20.
Helping on that front are the Blue Jays’ five pending free agents (Carlos Villanueva, Brandon Lyon, Jason Frasor, Kelly Johnson and Omar Vizquel) plus potential room from the club options on Darren Oliver, who is considering retirement, and Rajai Davis, who is likely to return.
Under those circumstances, there was no room or budget for Litsch, who is now free to sign with whomever he wishes.
First things first, though, is a crucial appointment in roughly two weeks with Dr. Brian Cole, a cartilage restoration orthopaedic surgeon at Chicago’s Rush Hospital. Litsch says the cartilage on the back of his right arm is essentially gone, meaning that every time he throws the ball he feels bone rubbing on bone in his shoulder area above the triceps.
“It’s not a good feeling,” he understates. “I might have to have another surgery, I don’t know. It’s been an interesting, troublesome time, but I’m trying to stay mentally focused, all I want to do is be out on the field.”
Should he need to go under the knife again, it would mark a third operation since February, when he underwent emergency surgery to clean out an infection in his right shoulder that developed from the ill-fated PRP injection designed to alleviate soreness in the area.
In June, after attempts at rehab bore little fruit, he had another procedure on his biceps tendon, capping a nightmarish stretch that started when he tore a ligament in his right elbow two starts into the 2009 season.
Litsch returned in 2010 but his season was cut short by hip surgery, and in 2011 he missed time with a shoulder impingement.
“That’s tough to say,” he replies when asked to describe the past four years. “I’m very mentally strong, I’ve got a lot of people around me pushing me, my wife (Andrea) helps out a lot, it’s just a matter of getting through it.
“Who knows what happened. It might have been wear and tear, I don’t know, I’m not going to sit here and speculate, it is what it is at this point. The infection caused a lot more than what was needed, that’s been the main focal point of everything, I believe.
“Obviously I regret taking (the PRP injection). It’s what the doctors told me to do, it’s what they said, so obviously you’re going to listen to the doctors and go with it. You don’t expect to get an infection from any of this. You’ve got to listen to the people who know what’s best to do.”
Litsch’s last full season was in 2008, when he went 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA in 176 innings over 29 games, 28 of them starts.
He broke camp with the Blue Jays in 2011 as a starter before shoulder woes landed him on the DL and he returned to the Blue Jays as a reliever, a role in which he went 2-0 with a 4.08 ERA, 1.081 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
While Litsch figured Anthopoulos would cut ties with him, he has no idea how his future plays out.
“Me and Alex talked, I was pretty understanding of it, it’s a business move and he left it at who’s to say you’re not going to come back here,” says Litsch. “A guy that’s not healthy isn’t going to help the team and I understand the whole process. If I get healthy, he might sign me back, it’s a matter of showing I can get healthy.
“That’s my main concern right now, making it back to the big-leagues. My last pitch in the big-leagues is a home run (by Kelly Shoppach) off the top of the roof at Tropicana Field — I don’t want that to be my last pitch.”
Sadly, it very well might be.