Pitching duo shine in debut
By C. Trent Rosecrans, CNATI.com Posted March 6, 2010 8:11 PM ET
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Nobody Tweeted a pitch-by-pitch account of the spring debut of Travis Wood or Mike Leake, but had they, the superlatives would have been tough to keep to 140 characters.
Overshadowed by the uproar over Aroldis Chapman have been the Reds' No. 1 pick from last season and last season's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The hype around Chapman has been loud - and deservedly so, it should be noted by one of the hipsters - but Leake and Wood are as much a part of the Reds' promising pitching future. They may also be just as close to appearing at Great American Ball Park as Chapman.
Wood, 23, and Leake, 22, both made their spring debuts in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, and neither gave up as much as a hit.
"It was the first time I saw Wood in action and he threw it good," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Leake, he threw the ball equally as good as Wood. He moved it around, changed speeds. He's got an idea of what he's doing for such a young pitcher. Both of those young guys threw the ball good today."
Wood entered the game in fifth inning, and while some Indian starters were out, he did face Shin-Soo Choo. After getting Luis Rodriguez to ground out weakly back to him to start the inning, the lefty Wood threw left-handed hitting Choo a cut fastball that fooled the Indians' outfielder and resulted in a check swing for strike one. Then on a 2-2 count, Choo grounded out harmlessly to second base. He then struck out Lonnie Chisenhall on three straight pitches.
He walked the first batter he faced in the sixth inning, but got the next batter, Shelly Duncan to ground into a double play and then a fly ball to right to end his day.
There were no fireworks or desperate looks at radar guns, but it was an effective and impressive performance. It's pretty much what Wood had been looking for.
"I went into last year with a brand-new mindset, I'm not going to give in, I'm not going to give the hitters too much credit. I'm going to go right after them, let my guys behind me do their work and we're going to win ballgames," Wood said before Saturday's game.
That was new, said his catcher on Saturday and for most of his professional career, Chris Denove.
Denove said before last season, Wood threw everything off his changeup, but last year he changed his approach, got more aggressive and started everything off his fastball and cutter.
The results were staggering. In 2008, he went 4-9 with a 7.09 ERA for Class AA Chattanooga. In 2009, Wood was 9-3 with a Southern League-record 1.21 ERA in 19 starts for the Class AA Carolina Mudcats. He was named MiLB.com's Class AA Starter of the Year, the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher and a Class AA All-Star by both Topps and Baseball America.
The results were pretty much the same in his first Cactus League start and his first-ever game against big leaguers.
"It's déjà vu," Denove said. "It was like every game last year. It's the way we work."
It's also the way Leake works - and worked on Saturday. Drafted with the No. 8 overall pick in last year's draft out of Arizona State, where he was named the 2009 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a unanimous All-American selection and a Golden Spikes Award finalist.
Leake debuted last season in the Arizona Fall League, starting five games and going 1-2 with a 1.37 ERA in six total appearances.
Still, Saturday was different, he admitted. It was his first start in a Reds uniform. His outing was just an inning, but it was eerily similar to Wood's first inning - a grounder back to the mound, a strikeout and a groundout to second.
"I want as quick as innings as you can get. I'm a ground-ball pitcher, that's how I stay in games," Leake said. "You'll know when I'm having a bad game because you'll see more fly balls and groundballs. When there's groundballs, it means I'm doing something right."
It's why Leake has been earmarked for the fast-track to the big leagues since being drafted.
Mike Leake fields a bouncing ground ball against the Indians in Goodyear Park. Photo by Brian Baker"I haven't caught Leake in a game yet, but from what I've seen in bullpen sessions, he's real good with what he's got. That's all you can ask for from a baseball player, you're given your ability, what can you do with it," Denove said. "Leake is as polished I've seen coming out of college. He commands both side of the plate with most of his pitches and that's going to get a lot of hitters out. He knows how to set up hitters, and that's a real big deal."
New Reds pitching coach Bryan Price has liked what he's seen from the duo so far. Price, an Arizona resident, watched Leake in the Arizona Fall League and has watched Wood closely since he reported to Goodyear early.
"I haven't had a great taste of exactly what they're capable of doing, so I'd rather not say, but from what they've accomplished, what Wood was able to do over the course of last season and what Mike was able to do over the course of his college career and Arizona Fall League, these guys are going to challenge soon," Price said. "I'm not going to say anything about this year's club, there's nobody in this room that already has no chance at making the club -- not that it's my decision -- but I'm not thinking about whether either of these guys are going to start in the minor leagues. That's not in my mind. My interest is to decide and come to my own conclusion if that I could stand up and say this guy could help us at the big league level now.
"We'll have to see what Dusty and Walt and the rest of the coaching staff say. I just want to see them pitch, I'd like to have them as long as possible and really make a push for a shot on our roster. I'd like all our guys to do that, but they have to get a result, but these two came out and set a real high bar for themselves in their first game."
That bar is as high as anyone's now. Both pitcher do it differently than the sexy fireballer, but that doesn't mean either have mediocre stuff, Price said.
"I think both of them have plenty of fastball. When you put them up against Cueto or Chapman or Cordero, guys that power the ball, the similarities aren't there," Price said. "However, they both have plenty enough fastball. Neither one has to apologize for their velocity for any means. They can sink it or cut it and add or subtract velocity from their fastball and they both have outstanding changeups. And then you just pitch. What they do is they execute pitches. From their bullpen routines through their first games, they've done just that. They've been really clean with their deliveries and made a lot of good pitches over the course of the early part of the spring. They've impressed everybody."