ANAHEIM -- Whether it had been weighing on him or not -- and, for the record, Mike Leake said it had not -- the absence of anything in his win column made Leake an easy target for talk about whether he'd provide the value worthy of the $80 million contract
ANAHEIM -- Whether it had been weighing on him or not -- and, for the record, Mike Leake said it had not -- the absence of anything in his win column made Leake an easy target for talk about whether he'd provide the value worthy of the $80 million contract he signed in December.
Leake, just one month into that five-year deal, hushed that debate with his performance in an 8-1 win over the Angels on Tuesday night to kick off the team's six-game stay in southern California.
The complicated innings that had marred many of his previous starts were absent, as Leake worked around leadoff hits in the first and second innings without issue. A handful of stellar defensive plays made behind Leake also helped the pitch-to-contact righty as he navigated through a season-high eight innings.
"Kind of what we've seen all season, minus the one inning where things kind of piled up on him," manager Mike Matheny said. "More than anything else, he just needs to get in a good feel. You could tell it was just a rhythm. He held the tempo. When he needed to make good pitches, he made real good pitches. I thought everything was right."
Leake retired 14 in a row at one point, a stretch that was interrupted by a two-out walk to Mike Trout. He didn't allow an extra-base hit until the eighth inning, when the Angels scored their lone run. By then, Leake, who had received a team-low 22 runs of support through his first six starts, was cradling an eight-run lead.
"I was a little more consistent hitting my spots tonight," Leake said. "A little more down in the zone. I was just going out there and trying to make good pitches and get bad contact."
Leake entered the game with a 6.03 ERA and had allowed four or more runs in each of his six starts. The positives were largely disguised by subpar stat lines skewed by Leake letting innings unravel. In four of those six appearances, Leake endured an inning in which he allowed at least three runs.
After picking up his first win, Leake said the pressure of receiving the largest free-agent contract to a pitcher in franchise history had not burdened him over the last month. Yet, he acknowledged that it's a prism through which others will continue to evaluate his performance.
"I guess six or seven games in a row of not producing will do something," Leake said. "But you have to keep moving forward and learn. To me, it's another game. But it's nice to get a win for the team."
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.