ANAHEIM — For both Wade LeBlanc and his manager Scott Servais, the culprit behind the left-hander’s struggles on Saturday night at Angel Stadium was clear: his cutter was not working for him.
In four innings pitched, LeBlanc allowed six runs on 10 hits, putting his teammates in a hole they
ANAHEIM — For both
In four innings pitched, LeBlanc allowed six runs on 10 hits, putting his teammates in a hole they couldn’t climb out of on the way to a 9-2 Mariners loss. It was his inability to get the results he wanted with his most-used pitch that sunk him.
“The stuff was a little … I wanna say fuzzy? I don’t know if that’s the right word,” said Servais. “Not as crisp as we’ve seen, certainly with the cutter tonight. When Wade’s on his game, it’s a key pitch for him, along with the changeup.”
Of the 23 cutters LeBlanc threw on Saturday, eight went for strikes, and only three induced swings and misses, suggesting he wasn’t deceiving hitters much. All four cutters that the Angels put in play went for hits, including Mike Trout’s third-inning home run.
Coming into Saturday’s game, LeBlanc had thrown a cutter for 30.2 percent of his pitches, according to Statcast. When it’s not doing what he needs it to, the frustration is palpable.
“It’s getting less and less fun trying to figure out how to throw a cutter,” said LeBlanc. “It’s a pitch that’s been probably the best pitch for me over the last three or four years, and all of a sudden it feels like I’ve never thrown one before. So it’s just kind of trying to find that again, and figuring out what to do with it.”
Indeed, this is looking like something of a recurrent problem for LeBlanc. Both the strike rates and whiff rates on LeBlanc’s slider are down a few percentage points from last season to this season. Perhaps more telling is that batters are hitting his cutter harder than ever in 2019. Entering play Saturday, his cutter was inducing an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph, up from 88.4 mph last season.
LeBlanc noted that this is the first time in his career that he’s lost the feel for his cutter for an extended period. The cause has eluded him thus far.
“It’s weird, man, I don’t know,” said LeBlanc. “I don’t know if it’s the balls, I don’t know what it is.”
LeBlanc was also dealing with some unusual circumstances on Saturday. After pitching behind an opener for seven straight outings, he started for the first time since May 29, a decision Servais said pregame had to do with the current state of the Mariners’ bullpen. For LeBlanc, getting back into the groove of starting requires some adjustments.
“It’s just a different approach in terms of when you start warming up, and how much you’re doing to warm up,” said LeBlanc. “Your pitches in the bullpen are limited when you’re coming out of the bullpen, in the middle of the game or the middle of an inning. So it’s just kind of finding that happy zone, I guess.”
While LeBlanc didn’t feel as if starting rather than following an opener impacted his performance, he did acknowledge that the time off due to the All-Star break may have adversely affected his feel on Saturday.
“I mean, it always does, especially for a guy like me,” said LeBlanc. “We’re gonna be on the edge, we’re gonna have the finish on pitches that I didn’t really have tonight.”