Leake gives up mostly singles, but they add up

Pitching to contact is righty's game, but not when grounders become hits

August 22nd, 2019

The D-backs have walked a fine line since last season, dealing away franchise icons while acquiring talent that they hope will help them remain competitive in 2019. One such move was the acquisition of right-hander from the Mariners on July 31, a deal aimed at bolstering a starting rotation relying on a bevy of inexperienced arms.

So far, things haven't worked out the way Arizona would have hoped.

Leake gave up five runs on eight hits -- seven of them singles -- over five innings in the D-backs' 7-2 loss to the Rockies at Chase Field on Wednesday afternoon, dropping Arizona back to .500 (64-64). The veteran righty has an 8.02 ERA in four starts with the D-backs after his latest rough outing.

"He’s going to pitch to contact and he’s not afraid of putting the ball on the plate,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “And he’s making adjustments. That’s really what we’re looking at. We know that there are going to be some balls that get through the infield."

Batted balls can find holes through the infield. It happens all the time. And Leake makes his living inducing contact that results in outs. But in Wednesday's start, only two of the eight hits he gave up had an expected batting average, according to Statcast, of below .300 (a Charlie Blackmon single in the first inning and a Yonathan Daza single in the fourth).

And while the expected batting average against Leake over his first three starts for Arizona was 48 points lower than the actual batting average -- indicating a good amount of luck involved in batted balls becoming hits -- even the expected batting average was high, at .349.

Leake alluded to that after the D-backs' loss.

"Sometimes balls through holes can beat you, and today was that,” Leake said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite missing enough barrel to where they could hit it to our guys.”

Eight of the 18 balls put in play against Leake on Wednesday were hard-hit, according to Statcast (exit velocity of 95 mph or greater). Five of those came off the bat with an exit velocity of 100 mph or more.

The result was a 5-0 deficit for Arizona by the fourth inning, one that the club's offense couldn't overcome against a surprise performance by journeyman right-hander Tim Melville, who was pressed into service after scheduled Colorado starter Jon Gray was scratched due to injury.

All the D-backs could muster against Melville was a solo home run in the sixth. added a solo homer off Rockies reliever Jesus Tinoco in the eighth.

The D-backs are still in the National League Wild Card hunt, but in order to break free of the .500 range, which they've been hovering around for the better part of the season, they'll need more from Leake on a staff that lost Zack Greinke at the Trade Deadline.

Undoubtedly, there will be seeing-eye singles and other hits that result from balls finding holes against Leake. But that's not what concerns Arizona.

"I can live with the base hits," Lovullo said. "It’s the slug that we’re trying to stay away from."