While perusing the box scores a few weeks ago, I saw a starting pitcher for the Reds I didn’t recognize. Sam LeCure had just tossed a quality game against the Giants, completing six innings and allowing just one run on five hits. He had walked four and struck out only three, so it wasn’t exceptional, but the results were there, at least. Then I looked at the Giants’ side of the box and saw his opponent. Matt Cain pitched a complete game shutout. Tough luck, I guess.
As often happens when I run into a player, particularly a starting pitcher, with whom I’m not familiar, I started looking into LeCure. A fourth-round pick in 2005, he was never a heralded prospect. Turning to the Reds blogs, I found a nice write-up on LeCure at Redleg Nation, which brought to light an interesting fact. When the Reds drafted him in 2005 he hadn’t pitched for the Texas Longhorns since 2004 due to academic ineligibility. He was excellent while there, though, especially at keeping the ball inside the park. The Reds drafted him based on his stellar 2004 season and assigned him to their Rookie League team, where he tossed 41.1 pretty good innings.
Despite the academic ineligibility, from what I’ve read it sounds like LeCure knows what he’s doing on the mound. The Redleg Nation profile cited a John Sickels write-up, which they quoted as saying, “he has a good feel for pitching and can outthink hitters,” though that quote no longer exists on Sickels’s website. The profile on Redlegs Baseball echoes the sentiment, describing LeCure as, “one who has a great degree of ‘pitchability’ and an understanding of how to pitch.” In both spots, however, we get a less than flattering description of his stuff: a low-90s fastball, decent slider, decent changeup.
Overall, LeCure posted quality minor league numbers, though his walks at the higher levels were a bit high for a pitcher with his kind of stuff. Still, he had a 4.17 ERA (3.90 FIP) in AA in 2008, which he followed with a homer-less Arizona Fall League stint (2.20 FIP). In 2008, his results at AAA improved, a 3.42 ERA and 3.60 FIP. Still, even at 24 years old, the Reds did not promote him to AAA. He went there in 2009, and while his results, a 4.46 ERA and 17 home runs, weren’t encouraging, he did get his walks down to 2.8 per nine, which led to a 3.84 FIP. He lost the fifth starter competition this spring, but again pitched well at AAA, a 2.55 ERA and 3.04 FIP. That earned him the first pitching call-up from the minors.
LeCure’s debut went well. He threw six innings of two-run ball against the Astros, though he did walk four. The Reds’ offense handed him his first big-league win by scoring eight runs off of Wandy Rodriguez. It would be the last non-elite pitcher LeCure would face for quite a while. His next four starts pitted him against some of the best the league has to offer. Here are the pitchers he faced, and the results they achieved.
June 2 – Chris Carpenter: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
June 8 – Matt Cain: 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
June 13 – Zack Greinke: 9 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 12 K
June 19 – Felix Hernandez: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
In other words, even if LeCure had pitched well above his head he still stood little chance in these starts. He did make a valiant effort against Greinke, but he couldn’t get through the seventh and the bullpen put the game out of reach. It’s tough for any pitcher, never mind a rookie with fringy stuff, to do much of anything against this group.
Thankfully for him and his team, LeCure will draw a bit easier of an assignment on Saturday, Cleveland’s Justin Masterson. LeCure’s recent performances against AL teams haven’t helped his case. He has allowed nine runs in 12.2 innings in his last two starts against two weak offenses. Cleveland also features a well below average lineup, ranking 11th in the AL in runs per game. LeCure’s biggest benefit, however, should come from the offense. The Reds understandably managed just five runs in that brutal four-game run with LeCure on the mound. If his fortunes are going to change, this weekend could be a good start.