LeBlanc's challenge this year has been to not only master throwing a two-seam fastball, something he's never done, but also make his changeups appear to the batter like his two-seam fastball, which is what he relies upon. While movement is always important, the most significant part of his success, as he has demonstrated throughout his collegiate and professional career, is the ability to make batters believe that they are seeing something that they are not.
While results are always important, the purpose of the minor leagues is development, and in the process of taking a step forward sometimes it's necessary to take a few steps back.
This year has been a few steps back.
Despite a dazzling first outing where he struck out 11 in six innings and gave up only a single run, he's had a tough year so far as evidenced by his 9.35 ERA.
Regardless of what the results are for the first quarter of the season, the Padres still believe LeBlanc is one of their best pitchers within the organization, and he has as good a changeup and feel for pitching as anyone.
You had a lot of success last year. How did it carry over into your off-season and this year?
Wade LeBlanc: When you have success it does breed confidence, but, at the same time, it makes you realize how much more you have to work on. Going to big league camp this spring really opened my eyes to some of those things such as the importance of fastball command. When you have an off-speed pitch and confidence that it can get you out of jams, it's great, but you still need to realize there is a difference between the hitters in the minor leagues and the big leagues.
There has been so much talk about you starting to throw a two-seam fastball as opposed to throwing your four-seam fastballs only. Is this the first time that you have really thrown a two-seam fastball?
Wade LeBlanc: I was messing around with it a little in San Antonio last year. I guess they have always realized that I needed one, but the stubborn side of me said, ‘If I was having success why change?' But when you start going higher up the chain, and especially in big league camp, you realize that, ‘I don't want to pitch in Double-A or Triple-A, I want to pitch in the big leagues,' and that I need something else to be the type of pitcher that I want to be. The Padres have done a great job with me in staying patient and helping me to realize that.
You've had so much success with your four-seam and working your changeups off of it that and now you are struggling with the two-seam is it tough to stay focused and know that you are going to take some lumps now in order to have success at the big league level?
Wade LeBlanc: Exactly, exactly that is what you have to keep in mind. The first sign of trouble with the two-seam makes you want to go back to the things that I can do and have had success with. You have to realize, though, that I need to have this pitch in the big leagues, and if it means taking some lumps in order to get where I want to go, I have to do that.
Last year, when I saw you in San Antonio with your "changeups" what was the percentage that you were throwing your changeups?
Wade LeBlanc: Probably about seventy percent fastballs, twenty for the changes and five percent curves.
So how are you splitting your four and two-seam fastballs now?
Wade LeBlanc: I'm trying to split them up and really focus on throwing the two-seamers more.
How has the curve been coming along?
Wade LeBlanc: It's good, it's been coming along. I can throw it for strikes, but it's never going to be a pitch that I rely upon to get strikeouts. It's going to be there when I don't want to show them the change or throw a fastball in a fastball count.
I saw you pitch one of your best games in San Antonio last year. One thing I was impressed by was I saw batters coming up for their second and third times appear like they had a pretty good idea of what you were going to throw and still strikeout. How do you keep batters that off balance?
Wade LeBlanc: When you look at several guys in this organization, like Josh Geer, when you have one very good pitch you don't need to throw it every time. If you throw it once it's in the back of his mind – so you can get away with fastballs because he might be looking for that change the whole next at-bat.
You throw the two changeups with the same arm speed, but they come in at different speeds. How do you do that, is it different grips?
Wade LeBlanc: No, really it's different pressure points with my fingers.
Where did you learn to throw a changeup? High School?
Wade LeBlanc: No, in high school I was more of a fastball/curve pitcher, but I messed around with it a little. When I got in college and realized that I didn't throw so hard I kind of took it off of a changeup that I started to throw in high school and played around with it until I got comfortable with it.
When you don't throw that hard, as you said, is it tough to get used to throwing inside?
Wade LeBlanc: It's something pitchers have to do. If you can throw 100 MPH you can throw it right down the middle of the plate all day, everybody else has to pitch. The goal is to get their feet moving a little and protect both sides of the plate.
What is the main thing that you have to do to become a successful pitcher in the major leagues?
Wade LeBlanc: I've got a long way to go, but there are so many little things that those guys repeat on a consistent basis. When you get to go to a big league camp you can really see how much you have to work on. Fastball command is number one and developing a better curve.