Wade LeBlanc has made solid case for rotation spot

SARASOTA, Fla. - At 35, left-hander Wade LeBlanc is the oldest player in Orioles camp. But just like some pitchers much younger, he is simply just trying to make the team.

There is a track record and resume there. One that saw him pitch to an ERA of 3.91 over a three-year run from 2016 through 2018. But in 26 games last season with Seattle, he went 6-7 with a 5.71 ERA.

He’s pitched well in his first two spring games as he tries to win a rotation spot. Over five innings, he has allowed two hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts.

“It’s been good, man,” he said of being an Oriole since he was signed Feb. 3. “Watching all these guys get after it is awesome. Spring training is an awesome time. Good to get to see and meet and know new guys. Try to impress new guys.”

LeBlanc, who has played for seven teams over 11 seasons, said the Orioles showed persistent interest in signing him over the winter.

LeBlanc-Pitch-White-ST-sidebar.jpg“The Orioles showed early interest and pretty much stayed with us through the whole offseason, through the whole free agent process,” he said. “You want to go somewhere you feel like you are wanted and valued. And Baltimore was that place this year.”

Even with that track record and his experience, LeBlanc said trying to make a roster is not at all new for him.

“That’s what I’m doing every year,” he said. “Trying to win a job. Which, that is the way baseball is. Every year is a new year. What you did last year is kind of irrelevant because you have a chance to kind of forge a new path and make a new name for yourself. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

And while some pitchers can afford to work on something in camp or take their time ramping up for the season, LeBlanc does that, too. But he probably also needs to get some positive results to make the rotation.

“It can be tough,” he said. “But fortunately, with experience, you learn how to do that over time. You want to get outs and don’t want to stand out there and give up runs until they come to bring somebody else in. But that’s the case in the regular season, too. Regular season games, same way. You are kind of feeling your way through a lineup. You’re trying to find your mechanics, your feel, your pitches, but you are also trying to get outs.”

LeBlanc’s record from 2019 shows 26 games and just eight starts. But 13 times, he pitched as the bulk pitcher, a pitcher that followed an opener and was asked to throw deep into the game like a traditional starter. He did well in those games with an ERA of 4.09.

He had five bullpen outings where he went six innings or more, allowing one earned run or less. That was the most such games in the major leagues since Boston’s Bob Stanley had five in 1982.

“It was an experiment,” LeBlanc said of being a bulk pitcher. “And when the team is cutting your paychecks, you’ve got to do what they tell you to do. You know there were times when it was good. When it works out well, everyone is on board for it. But when it struggles, there are some questions. It is what it is. You put your head down and try to get as many outs as you can. My job is to be ready when they tell me to come in.”

LeBlanc is definitely a command and control lefty. His fastball has never averaged 90 mph or better over a full big league season. His four-seamer last year averaged 86.7 mph and his two-seamer was at 86.4 mph.

“Changing speeds within the strike zone is very important for me, always has been,” he said. “Always will be. Guys with power stuff have a little more room for error. But for everyone in general, being able to change speeds inside the strike zone is something that can take someone’s game to the next level.”

And when I asked LeBlanc how he sized up his chances in this camp, his answer got right to the point.

“Gotta get outs,” he said.

And at just past the midpoint of camp he’s done that so far.

Mancini says thanks: A few of his veteran teammates talked about Trey Mancini yesterday in this entry. Mancini has left the team to undergo a non-baseball medical procedure this week, the details being kept private to this point.

Mancini thanked everyone for their support.

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