Arroyo helped ease Leake's transition to Majors

Arroyo helped ease Leake's transition to Majors

Arroyo helped ease Leake's transition to Majors
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Two years ago during Spring Training, it didn't take long for veteran Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo to size up one of the new pitchers in camp as someone to pay attention to.

It was then-rookie Mike Leake, the club's 2009 first-round Draft pick, who was fresh out of Arizona State.

"I didn't even know his name when I told Dusty Baker I thought that kid would be pretty good," Arroyo recalled. "I didn't know anything about him, and I hadn't seen him throw a bullpen, nothing. There was something about the way he walked around here."

Leake's march to the Majors was briefer than most, as he would become only the 21st player since the Draft began in 1965 to go straight from college to the big leagues without a stop in the Minors. The right-hander finished his first pro season 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 24 games, including 22 starts.

Now 24, Leake is 11 years younger than the 35-year-old Arroyo. Yet instead of running primarily with other younger guys, Leake gravitated quickly to the easy-going but hard-working Arroyo, and found himself a mentor.

"I thought he treated me the best out of anybody here, right off the bat at least. That's how it started," Leake said.

"He's a guy that I saw was humble and confident underneath," Arroyo said. "It's very rare to see that from a guy at his first Spring Training, much less a big league camp the first spring. It always starts first with personalities. You have to be able to click with someone on a human level before getting to the baseball stuff."

In an era when power pitchers that can bring 95 mph-plus heat to the plate draw the most attention of fans, scouts and the media, Arroyo and Leake are finesse guys. Both pitchers have velocity that generally ranges from 88-91 mph, and neither will rack up 200 strikeouts.

"We have to mix and match, and we have to play with hitters a little more than most guys," Leake said.

Leake likes to work off of his sinker, while Arroyo will throw about any pitch in any count. Their deliveries are not similar, as Leake does not mimic Arroyo's high leg kick.

But the way Leake went after hitters was something to which Arroyo could immediately relate.

"He can sink it. He can cut it. He wasn't overpowering," Arroyo said. "He had an idea of what he wanted to do with hitters, and wasn't just throwing pitches the catchers were putting down. That's been my style since I was in the Minor Leagues."

"We don't really talk too much about too many things," Leake said. "I just watch him and learn. I try to learn the consistency and get the consistency down. There are questions here and there that I will ask, like what type of routine he does to stay consistent."

Arroyo has built a steady career of 12 seasons, with consistency being the key to his longevity. He has pitched 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons, with his 2011 total reaching 199 innings. Arroyo has won at least 14 games in five of his last seven seasons, and has made at least 32 starts for the past seven seasons. Through it all, he has never spent a day of his career on the disabled list.

Leake made an immediate splash on April 11, 2010, when he allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings vs. the Cubs. His first professional year got off to a 7-1 start, the best by a Reds rookie since Wayne Simpson's 13-1 start to the 1970 season.

It wasn't all smooth, as hitters and scouts caught up to Leake by midseason. So did the grind of pitching every fifth day for the first time. The Reds capped him at 138 1/3 innings, and took him out of the rotation in mid-August to preserve his arm, but he went on the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue following two poor relief appearances.

"In his first year, definitely when he was struggling on the field at times, he would ask me different things," Arroyo said. "Guys get worried about what the future holds, and what they need to do to stay relevant in this game. I think I helped him there."

The two pitchers are friends away from the ballpark, but are not as similar with their personalities.

"We're complete opposites," the less outgoing Leake said. "He likes to go out and I don't. I will go out with him for about an hour, and he'll continue to stay there. We go to dinner on the road in different cities too."

Leake overcame a rocky start to 2011 to finish with a 12-9 record and 3.86 ERA in 29 games, including 26 starts. He also led the Reds in wins, ERA and strikeouts. His ERA was 5.77 through the first six starts, however, which preceded a demotion to the bullpen and then a trip to Triple-A Louisville for two games.

In April of last season, Leake pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of property -- a misdemeanor -- following a plea bargain from his arrest on accusations he shoplifted T-shirts from a department store. He went to a court-sponsored diversion program and performed community service as a stipulation to having the case dismissed.

"I'm still the same person," Leake said. "It's an experience I learned from. It wasn't like there was any malicious intent."

"It was something that was a dumb mistake on his part," Arroyo said. "It wasn't what it seemed. It wasn't somebody being a flat-out thief."

Leake went through some early struggles, but Arroyo's were season-long, as he went 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA. It was a teaching moment for Leake, as well.

"He had a little glitch last year because I don't think he completely reacted to not being able to throw 90 when he wanted to," Leake said. "He was only getting to 88. It will be fun to watch him this year and how he reacts to throwing a little slower velocity. When I get to that point, I'll be able to learn a little bit on how to react when I throw 85-86."

This spring, Leake appears likely to be the Reds No. 4 starter, although it has yet to be written in stone.

With more innings and experience behind him, Leake will need Arroyo's input less and less each season going forward. But it's always there if and when he needs it.

"It makes it a little bit easier when you know there is somebody you can talk to," Leake said. "If you want to learn something, you know you can ask him, and he'll give you a straight-forward answer. It's always refreshing to know that somebody will be there to help you."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.