September Call-Ups: Wade LeBlanc

The best word to describe Wade LeBlanc on the mound is control. He knows exactly what he wants to throw, where he wants this specific pitch to go, the pitch sequence that he wants to use, and what he plans to throw you not only in the next at-bat, but maybe the next time he faces you two weeks down the road.

At the end of April, LeBlanc wasn't in control. He had a 9.27 ERA and Pacific Coast League batters were hitting him to the tune of a .365 clip. What was especially frustrating to a competitor such as LeBlanc was that he could have been better, much better if he wasn't trying to throw a two-seam fastball that he was having difficulty trying to control; a pitch he had never thrown before in his career.

LeBlanc's goal was not to become the best pitcher in the Pacific Coast League, however, but to become as good a major league pitcher as his ability allows him too. In order to succeed on the big league level, it's not enough to throw a straight fastball for strikes, he needed the two-seamers' movement to set up his plus changeups.

So LeBlanc stuck with the two-seamer and ended up going 4-2 with a 2.86 ERA in the second half to earn a September call-up to San Diego.

When I saw you in Portland in April, you were just beginning to throw the two-seam fastball and struggling some with it. In the second half, you really picked it up and obviously improved with that pitch. What were the reasons behind your success?

Wade LeBlanc: When it comes down to pitches, it just about getting a comfort level with it. Throwing it day in and day out and getting comfortable with what kind of effort you can put into it and still have control.

In San Antonio last year, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between your four-seam fastball and your changeups. Have you gotten to the point where you are able to add and subtract off of your two-seam fastball?

Wade LeBlanc: Having two different changeups helps me a lot, so now I really have two different fastballs which look the same coming out of my hand. In the long run, as I get more comfortable with all of them, I will be able to locate them more consistently.

What was the biggest change that you saw in yourself from when you got called up?

Wade LeBlanc: Mainly more consistency, getting more comfortable throwing the pitches in the places that I wanted them to go and in the count that I want to throw them. It also comes down to staying ahead and not getting behind in the count, which will help me become more effective.

When I spoke with you earlier in the year, I was impressed by the fact that you were really going outside of your comfort zone in throwing the two-seamer, which you had never thrown before consistently on any level. You were getting hit much more than you ever had before, but you were pretty adamant that you needed to stick with that pitch because you need to be able to throw it on the major league level. Was it tough to keep your confidence level up?

Wade LeBlanc: First two months, I really struggled with confidence because I have never been hit hard like that on a consistent basis from start to start, just getting my head pounded in.

Towards the end, I just let it go and thought, ‘God you brought me here; take me where you want to take me.' Basically, I stopped trying to control each game and put so much pressure on myself and turned it back into a game rather than a job. I think that was the biggest thing, I stopped worrying about everything and just relaxed because I think I'm here for a reason. I think that really helped me get my confidence up, which helped me out for the rest of the season.

It looks like you are feeling more confident in San Diego?

Wade LeBlanc: Yeah, it was getting there. The biggest thing with this level is the speed of the game. Coming up to the majors, the biggest adjustment is to try the slow the game down to your level as you did in the minors. Each start, I've been able to get my feet under me a little better and hopefully it will continue.

Is there any difference in throwing your changeup to major league hitters as compared to minor league hitters or is it all about throwing it when they are not expecting it?

Wade LeBlanc: It's all about keeping them guessing. Up here I can't just throw changeups when I have two strikes. It's about being able to throw all of your pitches at anytime.

Has it been a big help having Nick Hundley behind the plate – a guy that has caught you so many times in the minors? It seems you are kind of instantly on the same page.

Wade LeBlanc: It's been very helpful, a huge comfort level and a huge confidence boost to know that there is a guy that you have thrown to behind the plate for a few years. I'm not taking anything away from Bardo [Josh Bard], but when you are throwing to guys who know what to do when you are going well and when you are in trouble. He knows when to come out and slows me down; just little things like that.

Obviously, you are a fan of the game. What is it like when you see guys that you have seen on television for years and suddenly you are facing them, like Manny Ramirez?

Wade LeBlanc: That was the name I was about to bring up and I probably would have smiled when I gave up a home run to him, but that made it a one-run game so it wasn't very fun at the time [laughs]. It makes the experience all the better to face guys that you have watched on television for years; it's very humbling.

What is always interesting for us who cover the minors is you see how many good players there are who are drafted and paid to play and how few make it to where you are right now. That must really give you some perspective in how fortunate you are. Obviously, you want to do more than this, but it is quite an accomplishment, especially when you think how many good players never make it this far.

Wade LeBlanc: Absolutely. They always say the easiest part is making it, the hardest is staying. The next start I have here is special, and we'll see if I can make it stick.

What do you have to work on the most to stick?

Wade LeBlanc: Fastball command. The same thing I told you in April is the same thing now. Hopefully, it keeps getting better. It begins and ends with fastball command.

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