Winless Leake remains positive

Winless Leake remains positive

ST. LOUIS -- Though several of his early-season starts have come unraveled by one complicated inning, right-hander Mike Leake said he does not believe the trouble relates specifically to pitching out of the stretch.

Whether there's a correlation, Leake remains winless on the season, largely because he has let one inning get away each outing. In four of his six starts, Leake has allowed three-plus runs in a single frame. In each of his last two outings, the troublesome inning seemingly came out of nowhere, as Leake preceded it by retiring nine in a row.

"It seems to spiral for a couple batters and then it goes back to normal," Leake said. "It's just a matter of figuring that out and getting better."

That will require getting better results out of the stretch, as opponents have hit .314 off Leake with a runner on base compared to a .256 average with nobody on. It's a discrepancy that has not been present in the past, as Leake entered the year with essentially the same results whether a runner was on (.266) or not (.265).

"The big innings are just something we're going to have to fight our way through," manager Mike Matheny said. "Sometimes your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. You could see that it was a fast tempo, which he normally keeps. And when it's going well, you want to keep riding that. The same thing can happen when you get into a little bit of a rut and you're not making the pitches you want. Guys that like to work fast, it can really work them and sometimes work against them."

A pitcher who has long relied heavily on ground-ball outs will enter his next start on Tuesday with a ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 0.93, the lowest of his career. His home run rate is up -- 1.6 per nine innings compared to 1.1 previous to 2016 -- as is his line-drive rate, which is higher (29 percent) than it has been in any previous season. Of those line drives hit off him, 23 of 34 have fallen for hits.

Ahead of his between-starts bullpen session, Leake said he will zero in on command.

"I'm just working on location and getting a little pickier with where I place the ball," he said. "That's all I feel like I can do. It's just a matter of making fewer mistakes, getting deeper and getting over this little hump."

Leake, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Cardinals in December, has endured this sort of start before. He opened 2012 with an 0-5 record and did not pick up his first win until his eighth start.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.