Another day, another Cardinals starter handed an undeserved fate.
After his start in Springfield last Friday, Mike Leake said that he felt better coming out of this spring training than any other in his career; a week later in St. Louis, Leake showed why his claim may have been more than just talk.
Leake breezed through eight strong innings Friday night, hampered by just one hiccup in the sixth inning. That was when Leake surrendered his only run of the night–all the Reds would need thanks to the lifeless Cardinal bats.
Leake didn’t give up much, but if anyone can do more than less, it’s Billy Hamilton. He singled in the sixth before thrusting himself into scoring position by stealing second–Yadier Molina’s throw was just tardy to nab the speedster.
“He’s a threat every time he steps in the box, just because of his speed,” Leake said. “He’s a scrappy little player that’s pesky.”
With Hamilton at second, the only real mainstay left in the rebuilding Reds lineup did his damage, as Joey Votto doubled in Hamilton to put Cincinnati ahead. The pitch that Votto turned into the game-winning RBI was one that Leake would have liked back.
“He likes that bottom left quadrant, so it was in there for him,” Leake said with a wistful grin.
Kevin Siegrist gave up the only other run in the Cardinals 2-0 loss, on a ninth-inning blast that Scott Schebler sent to the visiting bullpen. The Cardinals bats hung Leake out to dry, as he and Kolten Wong tallied the only hits off Reds rookie left-hander Amir Garrett, who made his MLB debut in the game. The loss marked the continuation of a troubling early season trend in which Cardinals starting pitchers perform admirably, but see their efforts go without reward.
Though the Cardinals won opening night, Carlos Martinez was denied the win thanks to a bullpen blowup. Both Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn reached the five innings to qualify for wins in their starts, giving up two runs apiece–but the Cardinals lost both games.
Then Friday, Leake went deeper than any of his rotation-mates had gone, and gave up just one run–yet was tagged for the loss. Leake threw eight innings on 92 pitches, 65 for strikes. He allowed just six hits while striking out six. But it’s hard to win if your team doesn’t score.
“It’s a shame to lose a great start like that,” Mike Matheny said. “Leake was terrific. Very much like what we’ve seen so far this spring. He put the ball exactly where he wanted. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
As a group, the Cardinals starting rotation has thrown 25 2/3 innings and allowed only five earned runs, good for a 1.75 ERA. With only Michael Wacha yet to throw, the starting pitching has deserved a much better fate than they have collectively received thus far.
“I’m happy with it,” Leake said of the performance of the Cardinals starting pitching staff. “I think we have the ability to do that every time we go out, so I look forward to the year. You don’t want to start out 1-3, but it’s early.”
The 1-3 record–currently putting St. Louis alone in the basement of the NL Central–can be pinned on the offense only mustering nine total runs in those four games; while the bullpen hasn’t been great either, the starting staff is effectively blameless for the Cardinals going slow out of the gate.
Leake, who fell to 0-3 against his former team for his career, couldn’t have been much better Friday. Mirroring his sentiment from his final spring start in which he stymied the Class-AA Springfield Cardinals, Leake worked quickly with his entire arsenal in play.
“I’m trying to build off of every time I go out there,” Leake said. “I think what I was able to gather during spring and what I’ve carried on into this first start, I hope I can keep it.”
For the team as a whole to find a rhythm, Leake has to hope his teammates do their part in his next outing; after a porous defense burned the pitch-to-contact righty throughout his debut season in St. Louis, Leake’s sophomore Cardinal campaign has begun with him taking the fall for the offense’s indiscretions.
Fortunately, the Cardinals have nothing but time. Leake mentioned the record after the game: they’re 1-3. But he didn’t appear overly concerned with it; Leake’s amiable postgame demeanor said it all–there’s a lot of baseball left to play.