Padres Q&A: Wade LeBlanc

Washington, DC: Wade LeBlanc, 25, was drafted by the Padres in the second-round of the 2006 draft. After racing through his first two years in the minor leagues on the back of a dominant changeup, he hit a major roadblock at Triple-A and the major leagues in 2008 and the first half of 2009.

Although LeBlanc always had exceptional control and an ability to throw his fastball with precision, the problem was that it was straight, not particularly fast and didn't have a whole lot of movement. He struggled to command a two-seam fastball, a pitch with more movement, that he could throw on the inside part of the plate.

His turning point came in June of last year when he scrapped the two-seamer for a cutter, a pitch that cuts away, as opposed to a two-seamer that sinks, which enabled him to have batters respect both sides of the plate and throw his changeup in pitchers' counts.

When we have spoken with you before you've always said that your success begins and ends with fastball command. Has that been the case this year?

Wade LeBlanc: Yes I think it has. The games that I have pitched well its been because I've been able to hit my spots early and get ahead in the count. If you look at the flip side its been pitching behind in the count because I've been nibbling.

One thing I think many people get confused about is the concept that "Wade is finally throwing the ball over the plate." You've always been able to throw the ball over the plate, you were just searching for the ability to throw it inside without coming back to you faster than you threw it.

Is one of the factors of your success this year is being able to throw a pitch inside that moves?

Wade LeBlanc: More just conviction and confidence in the fastball; mainly that its good enough to get outs at this level. That was the issue at the beginning and looking at the radar guns and seeing 86 or 87 and not feeling that it was good enough to get outs at this level and trying to live off of the change-up too much, which is what I did in the minors.

The big thing was learning that if you set up fastballs correctly and execute them that is good enough to get outs at this level.

When I've watched you this year it seems like when you are doing well, when guys set up outside they get the cutter and when they look to smash the cutter they knob it on the end of the bat. Was that a big part of your success in learning how to get guys to miss on the barrel of the bat?

Wade LeBlanc: The big learning process for me was graduating from making them swing and miss to keeping the ball off of the fat part of the bat. It can create strikeouts when you need them and create more efficient pitch counts. Easier innings than trying to get swings and misses which leads to more pitches and deeper innings.

It seems much easier to say and much easier to write but that seems like a pretty difficult transformation.

Wade LeBlanc: Oh yeah, its really easy to say but it took around three years for me to do it. It took a little more than four for it to really settle in.

When I saw Coach Abbott [his pitching coach in San Antonio and Portland] he talked about how much learning how to throw the cutter helped you and it seemed that is when your career really took off when you scrapped the two-seamer and went to the cutter.

Wade LeBlanc: The cutter was for whatever reason was much more natural for me to throw than the two-seamer. It gave me something that I could use to set up everything else away, because I am going to get most of my outs on the outside part of the plate as opposed to the inside.

You didn't make the team out of camp, but you pitched well and got caught up in a numbers game, so you have to be happy where you are because you have reached part of your goals; a starter in a major league rotation.

Wade LeBlanc: That is what everyone dreams about. The only unfortunate part was the way I came up because of Chris' [Young] injury because I wanted to come up on my own merits.

I did everything I could and it became a numbers game and I was on the odd man out because I had options. I wasn't the first guy it happened to and I don't think I will be the last.

You can't really look at it like I didn't make the team but I have to go back down and earn my way back up.

Since we focus on the minors, you were so effective with the swing and miss on the way up could they have developed you differently when they drafted you to have made it a little more smooth process?

Wade LeBlanc: Most of the guys that are drafted are going to have a similar mindset that I had; if this got you here why change it? They did try to change me, talked my ear off - its not about here, its about there.

The information that I got was all the same, fastball command and you need to develop something with movement, now, not two or three years down the road; but all I was seeing was that I was getting those swings and misses.

I think its a learning process everyone has to go through. All of the coaches have been there for me all the way up but I was so stubborn that I wasn't going to change what was working until it wasn't working.

You have to be a little stubborn to be a successful athlete.

Wade LeBlanc: True, but you also have to realize that they have been there and they know what it takes. Its not just about doing well in high-A or even making it to the big leagues; its about staying here and hopefully I will be able to do that.

One last question, how did a Louisiana guy end up with the Crimson Tide instead of LSU?

Wade LeBlanc: LSU said I didn't throw hard enough [laughs].

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