Leicester Wants to Continue Starting

Jon Leicester's place in the Cubs' organization has shifted since the season began. Leicester made the 25-man roster out of Spring Training as a middle reliever. Then after five appearances out of the bullpen, the 26-year-old was optioned to Triple-A.

"I started only some of 2003 (at Double-A West Tenn)," Leicester recalled. "I was starting at this time last year (at Iowa). It's nothing new to me; I just need to get into a routine."

Leicester started one major league game this year, a no-decision against the New York Mets on May 9. The game was delayed twice because of rain, so he was only able to pitch three innings.

Before the game was delayed for over 90 minutes, Leicester gave up three first-inning runs. He was sent back to Iowa after the outing.

"It was a rollercoaster of emotions," Leicester said of his first career big league start. "The rain delay's messed things up. Starting at any level is all about being comfortable, getting your pitches together and doing better the second time around. When it came down to it, I kind of saw it coming that they did not need the fifth starter for two weeks."

Leicester started three games at Iowa this year (two of them after his outing against the Mets). In 13 innings, the Mariposa, Calif., native was 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA. Opposing hitters batted only .217 against the right-hander and University of Memphis alumnus.

"I came down to get as many innings as I can," Leicester said. "It's not that bad when you go back down. I know I needed the work. It's a situation here where I can get 25-30 innings in a short period of time."

The Cubs are slowly working Leicester's endurance up so that he can pitch five innings or longer in an outing. He is familiar with starting after beginning 12 games for Iowa in 2004.

"I want to put myself in a position where I'm (preparing) myself as a starter for a while," Leicester said. "It's not hard to be a reliever. There are guys that roll out of bed and can be relievers. I know myself that I need to pitch a lot of innings, and regularly. I want to contribute anytime I show up.

"In the bullpen, as a mop-up guy, you just don't feel that accomplishment. I think I can do it at the next level (starting)."

Leicester has the type of attitude every organization looks for in a player. The 11th round draft pick in 2000 understood the Cubs' reasoning for optioning him back to the minors, and he was solid in the majority of the 32 major league games he pitched in last year as a reliever.

He doesn't feel that his talent has regressed since then.

"Last year when I came up, I had already thrown 65 innings," Leicester said. "I came up when some guys went on the DL and was able to stick around because I was doing well. This year, I just didn't get as many innings in."

Leicester allowed five earned runs to go with eight walks in his five relief appearances before first being sent to Iowa this season.

Starters are perhaps the biggest commodity in major league baseball. If Leicester builds his endurance to where he can pitch six or more innings consistently - and deliver similar statistics to the ones he provided last season at Iowa - he could become a major value to a big league rotation already torn apart with injuries.

Scott Sabin is the contributing editor of Inside The Ivy. Write to Scott at scott@insidetheivy.com.

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