Before Friday’s Route 66 Rumble between the St. Louis and Springfield Cardinals, Mike Matheny indicated he could envision limiting Mike Leake’s final exhibition start of the season to a brief outing–unless Leake just felt good enough to want to keep going.
Like a long-haired Energizer bunny, Leake did keep going–and going, and going–far longer than most would have expected for a game played in March. Leake was efficient and effective; he needed only 89 pitches to traverse seven innings, allowing one run on six hits. Leake induced weak contact to limit his pitch count, but also struck out eight as St. Louis beat Springfield 5-2 at Hammons Field.
“I felt good, things were working,” Leake said. "Yadi and (Alberto Rosario) were doing a great job back there.”
Leake said his change up was only sporadically effective, but felt the rest of his pitches were working well. And with his pitches working well, he worked fast.
The minor leagues implemented a pitch clock in 2016, and Friday’s friendly featured one, as well. As Leake progressed deeper into the game, he continued to pitch with intensity and pace. Still in the seventh inning, Leake was consistently into his windup for the next pitch with the 20-second pitch clock still displaying :13 or :14. According to Mike Matheny, that speed is right in his wheelhouse.
“He always does that–he’s just a quick worker,” Matheny said. “Sometimes that can end up being a detriment. There are times where he’s got to slow down, but for the most part, he does a great job of getting the ball and getting ready.”
With Friday’s gem, Leake lowered his spring ERA to 3.27. Obligatory ‘spring stats don’t matter,’ but if Leake could carry that type of success over to the regular season, it would be a marked improvement over his numbers from his debut season in St. Louis. With the regular season set to begin, Leake feels he’s positioned to build on a sharp spring.
“Pretty good,” Leake said, evaluating his spring performance. “I think it’s been the best spring I’ve had in my career as far as just progressing and getting a little bit better each day, so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Leake’s 4.69 ERA last season was the highest in any of his seven years as a big-leaguer–a disappointment for his first year with a new club. But Leake is geared up for 2017 in what is now a more familiar environment, and one that he believes is conducive to success.
“It definitely helps, knowing the guys, having a year,” Leake said. “I think it’s a pretty comfortable environment that we have right now and I think we have the tools to do something special.”