The St. Louis Cardinals will send Mike Leake to the hill this afternoon, looking to get back in the win column and avoid the sweep in Washington. He can also serve as a barometer of sorts for the team to return to their desired style of play.
“I think he’s one of our focal points as we start talking about cleaning up our game,” said Mike Matheny recently. “It’s easy to look at his statistics and it’s a pretty good indication of some things that we needed to change. To be able to stick with the philosophy we always had about pitching and how important our starting pitching is goes hand in hand with how we defend.”
After a spring in which the collective team embraced and emphasized a return to good defense, the Cardinals have made six errors in the last three games.
Though this will only be his second start of 2017, Leake is coming off what he described as the best spring of his career and can already feel a difference in how he is pitching.
“Better than last year,” he assessed. “I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where from here on out, it’s continuing to learn. This is a point where I don’t think I’ve been before, so I think it’s just growing and continuing to learn.”
Getting to this point has been a process over the last few seasons. Primarily thought of as a ground ball pitcher, the right-hander still was among the league leaders in that category last season but also showed the ability to get the strikeout.
The 125 strikeouts in 2016 was the second highest total of Leake’s career, as was his rate of 6.75 K/9. But he also remained among the ML leaders with 243 groundouts–10th best overall.
“I never really got away from it,” Leake said of grounders versus strikeouts. “I didn’t let the defense dictate the way I pitched. I still feel like we have a solid defense that makes the plays.”
The 29-year old has also worked on his timing and release points to make it even more difficult to differentiate between his cutter and sinker.
“It’s kind of what I focused on this 0ff-season and coming into spring, was trying to get my pitches to look very similar to each other,” shared Leake. “It seems to be working. I’m not all the way there yet, but it’s going well.”
In his first outing, Leake built upon a strong spring as he allowed just one run and struck out six in the loss against Cincinnati.
“Go based on feel a lot,” continued Leake. “I can visualize and see what other guys are doing and kind of replicate it or I go based off the feeling of just slowing myself down and really feeling it.”
First pitch is set for 3:05pm CT.
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI, St. Louis Baseball Weekly