Leake's slow start digs Cards early hole

Leake's slow start digs Cards early hole

SEATTLE -- The Cardinals' streak of 13 consecutive quality starts came to an abrupt end on Saturday when Mike Leake posted the rotation's shortest start in more than a month to put his team in too big an early hole.

The five runs Leake surrendered over the first two innings were enough to produce a 5-4 Mariners' victory and send Leake to his earliest exit as a member of the organization. Of the 22 batters Leake faced, 12 reached base.

"I wasn't locating it well all night," Leake said. "They had a pretty good approach, I felt like. They came out and attacked early. I couldn't get in a groove to counteract it. They did a good job."

Leake's night started auspiciously enough as he induced a pair of ground ball outs to open the first. The ground balls continued to pile up; the outs, however, did not. All five runs Seattle scored off him came via ground balls -- some that snuck through holes, others that weren't fielded cleanly.

A shifted second baseman left Dae-Ho Lee just enough room on the right side to chop a two-out, two-run single in the first. An inning later, the Mariners scored one run on Jhonny Peralta's fielding error and another when second baseman Matt Carpenter couldn't cleanly field a ground ball for a try at what would have been an inning-ending double play.

"They hit ground balls, a lot of ground balls, but they had some hard-hit ground balls, too," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny reasoned. "I think the ones that concern us were the ones that were getting up. They had some hard-hit line drives to go along with the ground balls. Nine hits there into the fourth. That's a lot going on."

There was, indeed, plenty of hard contact made. Nelson Cruz alone put his first two balls in play with exit velocities of 114 and 113 mph, respectively, and reached both times. The latter was the ball that Peralta could not field cleanly.

In particular, Leake was left susceptible because of his inability to locate his fastball. That led to the same sort of swollen innings that marred Leake's opening month with the Cardinals. This marked the sixth time in Leake's 15 starts that he had an inning of at least three or more runs allowed.

"I'd like to contain them," Leake said. "Like I said earlier, I don't see a rhyme or reason to what's going on. It's just ground balls finding holes and misplaced pitches on my part."

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.