'Every pitch is important': Leiter twirls 9-K, 0-BB masterpiece at Triple-A

March 31st, 2024

On a night that was headlined by Rangers pitcher Michael Lorenzen making a rehab start with Triple-A Round Rock, it was Texas’ No. 8 prospect who stole the show on the mound.

Leiter, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, twirled five innings of relief, striking out nine batters (one short of tying his career high) in Round Rock's 8-6 win over Sugar Land on Saturday night at Dell Diamond.

Maybe most impressively, Leiter didn't walk a batter. He retired the first 13 batters he faced before a single and home run put a blemish on his final stat line. But while he was pitching out of relief for just the second time in his career, he still earned the win and came away with some major positives from his 2024 debut.

The 23-year-old is both the son of a two-time All-Star and entering his fourth season of professional baseball but is always looking for ways to improve his game. With Lorenzen in town, Leiter gravitated toward the nine-year veteran who is coming off one of the best years of his career before signing with the club in free agency.

“He's a super nice guy,” Leiter said. “He talked about pregame routine and what I do to prime the body and get it going. He’s a freak athlete. He knows what he's doing from a physical standpoint.”

Leiter is going to need that success to carry into all of 2024. First impressions are important, but it’s especially crucial for him. As a top pick, the Vanderbilt product had lofty expectations from the Rangers but faced a roadblock in his young career.

Leiter spent most of last season at Double-A Frisco, which included a pair of stints on the Development List. He eventually graduated to Triple-A, making one appearance last year, but he still had a lot left to prove.

“Every game is important,” Leiter said. “Every pitch is important. So it doesn't matter where I'm pitching, it matters how I'm pitching. And that's what I'm going to do is focus on executing.”

It’s not like Leiter hasn’t demonstrated his abilities to be an ace that a team could build a staff around. During his time with the Commodores, Leiter made history by becoming the first pitcher to throw a regular-season, complete-game no-hitter in an SEC debut since 1971; his final year on campus saw him rack up 179 strikeouts in 110 innings while posting a 2.13 ERA.

Leiter has focused on honing his command as a pro, one of the biggest reasons that he repeated Double-A last season. The right-hander’s work paid off, as he bounced back in Spring Training by pitching 12 2/3 innings in the Cactus League, catching the eye of the club's front-office brass.

During Spring Training, manager Bruce Bochy said Leiter “looked way more comfortable” during his limited time.

It’s been nearly three years since Leiter heard his name called on Draft night. He’s learned a lot since then, but he also knows one key point that will allow him to develop into the pitcher that the Rangers trust he can become.

“You're always evolving,” Leiter said. “Hitters are evolving, the game is evolving, everything changes. So it's just about adapting and overcoming. To do that, it all comes back to the process, the routine and what you're doing to prepare yourself. If you do a good job with that, it makes it a lot easier to trust everything else.”