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Clean-cut Leake eyes same results for Mariners

Right-hander registered a 2.53 ERA in five starts after trade from Cardinals last season
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a Mariners team with several players sporting flowing locks and bushy beards, Mike Leake decided to go the other direction this spring.

The just-turned-30 right-hander's long hair is trimmed short and his goatee cleaned up considerably since he made his first favorable impression on Seattle after being acquired from the Cardinals for the final month of last season.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a Mariners team with several players sporting flowing locks and bushy beards, Mike Leake decided to go the other direction this spring.

The just-turned-30 right-hander's long hair is trimmed short and his goatee cleaned up considerably since he made his first favorable impression on Seattle after being acquired from the Cardinals for the final month of last season.

But the Mariners would love to see Leake leave everything else the same when it comes to performance after five shiny starts in his introduction to the Pacific Northwest. He went 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA to turn around what had been a frustrating season in St. Louis.

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Only a couple days into his first Mariners camp, Leake has already shown manager Scott Servais the professional approach he expected after watching the newcomer wiggle out of some gnarly jams in his first outings and proceed to throw up zeros on the board following his acquisition on Aug. 30.

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"I remember his first couple starts, in the first inning, you looked up and there were a couple guys across home plate and nobody was out and you're like, 'Oh boy,'" said Servais. "To his credit, that's why we acquired him. He wasn't going to panic and just kept about his business.

"I'm very impressed with him. I'm a little surprised at the hair, he's tightened up a little," Servais said with a smile. "He looks like a different guy. I hope we get the same results."

Leake's overall results have been a model of consistency in many ways. He's one of just four pitchers -- along with Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Ian Kennedy -- who've made 30-plus starts in each of the past six seasons, and he's gone 83-77 with a 3.98 ERA in eight Major League campaigns.

But he was just 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA in 26 starts for the Cardinals last year before they dealt him to Seattle for Minor League shortstop Rayder Ascanio along with $15 million in cash to lower Leake's remaining contract with the Mariners to three years and $33 million.

The Mariners definitely got their money's worth in his strong September. But Leake has been around long enough to know he needs to provide consistency over the long haul.

"I know I can put together good stretches," Leake said. "I'm looking for instead of stretches to actually put seasons together."

Video: TEX@SEA: Leake K's five over 6 2/3 solid innings

The Mariners are counting on Leake being a solid No. 3 behind James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, a stabilizing force in a rotation many are questioning. On a staff heavy on fly-ball pitchers, Servais sees the ground-ball-oriented Leake being in the mold of Hisashi Iwakuma in his prime.

"You look at what Kuma did for us in 2016 and they're comparable," Servais said. "Kuma was really a stabilizer for us. He had a great season. He was the key guy for us in '16. And without Kuma last year and what he brings, knowing you're going to get a really good effort and deeper into games, that's really valuable. He kind of fits into that spot for us."

For his part, Leake looks back at last season and knows he was pitching with a sore lat muscle in his right side with the Cardinals, but ripped off five outstanding starts for Seattle before being shut down to rest the injury once the playoffs were out of reach.

"A couple starts with St. Louis, it didn't look too good," he recalled. "I got some new energy [after the trade]."

Sometimes it's just good to be wanted.

"I think what happened with Mike is what happens to a lot of players," Servais said. "He embraced the change in uniform and the change in people around him looking at him differently. At the point we were at in our season, it was all open arms. 'Thank God we got Mike Leake.' We were really looking for that guy. I don't know. Maybe that had something to do with it."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Mike Leake