The Pittsburgh Pirates need a spark tonight against Reds unbeaten rookie Mike Leake. I see one potential spark in the player on the mound for the Bucs. Pirates starter Paul Maholm took the loss last time out against the Brewers. Maholm will be fired up to face this hot Reds lineup tonight.
In his last start, the Pirates gave Maholm an early three-run lead, but a big delay (thanks to Gregg Zaun not being able to catch a warm up pitch) caused a 40-minute delay when John Hirschbeck the home plate ump got beaned. Maholm struckout a season-high seven BeerMakers, but allowed four runs on four hits. Leake knows a bit about big delays, because it also impacted Leake in his college career.
Mike Leake was the Reds first pick at number eight in the First-Year Player Draft a year ago and was signed by scout Clark Crist. He is making the Pirates talent evaluation team look bad as he is bidding to become the first Reds pitcher to start his career 5-0 as a starter since Santo Alcala (washed out a year later) did it in 1976. Leake is only six foot tall, but has an aura around him on the mound. The Pirates are lacking anything that closely resembles an aura on the pitchers mound this season.
As you know, Leake was a stud at Arizona State and most scouts knew the arm would be plus. His fastball sits at 89-91 with good movement forcing a high number of ground ball outs. However, I never thought he would just skip the minors, although he did make six appearances in the Arizona Fall League. He just wasn’t that impressive too me. Boy was I freaking wrong on that evaluation. He has been stellar for the Reds this year. Leake has gone at least six innings in all of his eight starts, just once allowing more than three runs. He swings a tough bat as well sporting a .353 average coming into tonight.
The right-handed Sun Devil did not have the best numbers coming into the 2009 draft, but was still well above average: 1.71 ERA, 6.0 H/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.3 K/9. He allowed just four bombs despite pitching 142.0 innings.
Leake has a 2.91 ERA showing good control and plus command. For the Pirates to have success tonight, I would like to see them score early. It would be nice to see Leake hang a few of those curveballs in the first couple innings. I will go nuts if the Pirates early game run production goes to work on the rookie.
I am curious how much this impacted the Pirates thinking last year when in June Orel Hershiser wrote this interesting scouting report on Leake. Hershiser’s son went to rival USC and told him Leake has tremendous sink on his fastball. This report was written after an awful Leake outing against Texas at the College World Series.
Even though Mike Leake had a terrible performance in the game I saw Tuesday, I could tell that the Arizona State pitcher has a lot of good tools.
One of the reasons for his bad outing against Texas (3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 HR, 2 BB) could be the extended delay between starts. It had been almost a week and a half since his last start, and he also had about a 30-minute wait in the dugout before he came in and surrendered six runs to the Longhorns in the top of the fourth inning because the Sun Devils had a long bottom of the third.
What may have hurt him further was that even though he hadn’t allowed any runs in the first three innings, Leake didn’t seem to have his rhythm early on. All three of those factors could have added up to a bad outing.
I’ve written before about the difference between control and command. Leake had control but did not have command in his latest start. He was falling behind hitters 2-0 and 3-1 by trying to make quality pitches that he wasn’t quite able to execute.
Leake has enough ability and hand-eye coordination to come back in those counts and throw a fastball for a strike. But those fastballs were elevated and flat, and that led to trouble. His mind’s eye was trying to execute the kind of pitches that he had all year but couldn’t that day because of the reasons I listed.
Looking at his tools against Texas, I didn’t see any fastballs at 94 mph….. Orel Hershiser
Did Orel coach up Leake? His performance on the mound looks like it, but tonight, the Pirates need to knock this rookie down a notch.