ST. LOUIS -- It was both better and more of the same for Mike Leake, whose final pitching line didn't exactly reflect marked improvement even if the way he got there did.Leake was stung by three home runs in the Cardinals' 6-4 victory over the Rays, but he also pitched
ST. LOUIS -- It was both better and more of the same for Mike Leake, whose final pitching line didn't exactly reflect marked improvement even if the way he got there did.
Leake was stung by three home runs in the Cardinals' 6-4 victory over the Rays, but he also pitched efficiently enough to last seven innings -- something the right-hander, who went by "Sparky" for Players Weekend, had done just once in his previous nine starts.
"It's amazing, you look down there, and it's seven innings on 75 pitches, and it was the three home runs [that hurt]," manager Mike Matheny said. "They just capitalized on some pitches that weren't quite where he wanted. But he did a nice job keeping us there."
Leake took the mound under a microscope of scrutiny, as it wasn't until about 24 hours before his first pitch that the Cardinals publicly announced that he'd even make the start. The organization had considered removing him from the rotation, at least temporarily, as Leake's 7.24 ERA since the start of July was the Majors' fourth-highest among all pitchers with at least 40 innings during that span.
Leake was not only aware of his tenuous status, but also the public criticism directed toward the Cardinals for sticking with him.
"It was in my mind, but I wouldn't say it really affected the way I go about my business," Leake said. "I've been able to learn the game a little bit and, I mean, I still take the same approach toward the game every day."
Four of the six hits Leake gave up Saturday came with two outs, including home runs to Lucas Duda and Corey Dickerson. Adeiny Hechavarria tagged Leake for a solo homer, too, but the absence of complicated innings and strings of hits was a welcome change of pace.
Leake did not allow multiple hits in an inning after the first.
"[I was] planning on just going after them and attacking, and the results followed," Leake said. "I feel pretty confident with my stuff."
The performance likely assures Leake of making his next scheduled start, though, with rosters set to expand in September, the Cardinals will have more flexibility if they wish.
Over the final weeks of the season, Leake will be looking not only to correct his second-half trajectory, but also to avoid a September fade. Leake has a career 4.70 ERA over the final month of the season, which is more than a half-run higher than his career ERA.
"I think you're expecting him to come out every time and have his good stuff and make quality pitches," Matheny said. "That's what he did early on [in the season], putting every pitch with the right kind of movement in the bottom of the zone. That was producing early ground balls where he could be efficient and effective. I think he goes out there looking for that stuff every time."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.