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Leake 'most comfortable' he's ever been

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It was an exercise in efficiency for Mike Leake on Friday, as he breezed through four innings on 41 pitches (29 strikes) in the Cardinals' 7-1 win over the Nationals.

Aside from a hanging curveball that Bryce Harper crushed, the performance was just as Leake would have drawn it up. He induced eight groundball outs, struck out two, and flashed five different pitches in his third start of spring.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It was an exercise in efficiency for Mike Leake on Friday, as he breezed through four innings on 41 pitches (29 strikes) in the Cardinals' 7-1 win over the Nationals.

Aside from a hanging curveball that Bryce Harper crushed, the performance was just as Leake would have drawn it up. He induced eight groundball outs, struck out two, and flashed five different pitches in his third start of spring.

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The results were encouraging, but so, too, has been the process -- so much so that Leake offered this bold assessment afterward:

"I think I can say this is the most mature I've felt in my whole career," Leake said. "I feel like I'm at the most comfortable with the big leagues that I've been."

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Leake's spring results would indicate that. He opened his Grapefruit League season by facing the minimum over three innings. In total, he's allowed four runs on seven hits and not walked a batter over 11 spring innings.

"From his first 'pen this year compared to the first 'pen last year, there was just a crispness to it," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was putting the ball exactly where he wanted to, it seemed like right from the start."

Mid-game swap

It was an odd move, but a deliberate one, when Matheny pinch-hit Matt Adams for designated hitter Patrick Wisdom in the fourth inning on Friday. Wisdom knew up front that he was to be a placeholder until Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez exited his start. Once that happened, the spot in the lineup was to turn over to Adams.

So why all the mixing and matching? Matheny wanted to prioritize at-bats for Adams, but preferred he didn't get those against a left-hander.

"[Adams] has had his share of nasty lefty at-bats already," Matheny explained. "Let's just let him get in there against a righty. He's feeling some really good things in his swing. He doesn't necessarily need to jump in there against Gio."

Adams finished the game with two at-bats and contributed a single and a run in the team's five-run fourth. He is 5-for-23 with 11 strikeouts this spring, but has hit safely in three straight games.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Leake