The Cincinnati Reds have poised themselves to make a strong run at a World Series in 2012.
They have beefed up their bullpen to the point of making a starter out of Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban fire-baller has been a point of concern and contention since being signed in 2010.
As good as Latos is supposed to be, it still looks like he will take a backseat to Johnny Cueto, who led the National League in ERA for most of the last half of 2011.
Bronson Arroyo has been the Equus caballus (I will give you a moment so you can look up the name to see it is a workhorse). He is behind only four pitchers in the MLB in games started since 2007. He can be counted on to produce 200 innings per year.
Homer Bailey is the poster boy for not bringing a man to the major leagues too soon. He has been back and forth to Louisville more than a Greyhound bus. He finally was on his way to a good season and wound up on the DL. Twice! He pitched 13 quality starts in 22 tries in 2011.
I have introduced you to five starters who have had their share of ups and downs, have lived in the proverbial petri dish, and who most share the spotlight when it comes to Reds' pitchers.
I would like to put the spotlight on young Mike Leake. The Iceman cometh! No, I don't mean former UFC champ Chuck Liddell.
Mike Leake, who just turned 24 in November, is the quiet man in the Reds' rotation. The Fallbrook, Calif., native is listed at 6'1", but is far from an imposing specter on the mound.
He began his college stint at Arizona State University as a closer in 2007, and was made a starter later in the year. He was a third team All-American with a 13-2 record and an ERA of 3.69.
In his sophomore season of 2008, he was second-team All-American and PAC-10 pitcher of the year, going 11-3 with a 3.49 ERA.
In 2009, his junior and final college season, Leake was outstanding. He finished the year with a remarkable 16-1 record with a shining ERA of 1.71. He was a first-team All-American, National Player of the Year and National Pitcher of the Year.
He was the Reds' first draft pick (eighth overall) in the 2009 Amateur Draft, after his three-year collegiate career.
Leake became one of only a few players to make the jump from college to pro without first becoming seasoned in the minor leagues. Not only did he forego a minor league beginning, he made the rotation out of spring training.
I watched his first start on TV against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park on April 11, 2010. He showed poise and the ability to work under duress from the get-go.
After working himself into a bases-loaded, no-outs situation, Leake collected himself. He got Aramis Ramirez to pop up, struck out Marlon Byrd and had Alfonso Soriano pop up as well, getting out of his first inning unscathed.
He pitched 6.2 innings that day, allowed only four hits, one run, struck out five, but allowed seven walks. He didn't factor in the decision but it was a quality start in his big league debut.
Leake went on to have 14 quality starts in his 22 attempts that rookie year. He finished the year with an 8-4 record and an ERA of 4.23.
He was sat down by manager Dusty Baker because his IP was a concern after his college career without minor league duty.
He was a member of the starting rotation at the beginning of 2011. After six starts and a 3-1 record Leake was relegated to the bullpen in early May.
After being placed back in the rotation, Leake showed much improvement. From May 27 until Aug. 10, he had a 7-5 record with an impressive ERA of 3.09 in 14 starts.
During that span, Leake had 10 quality starts in 14 attempts.
Another one of Leake's attributes is his ability to hold his emotions in check. He appears almost stoic on the mound. Unlike Bailey, and some others, you can't tell by looking at him if he is up by two runs or down by five.
He has shown to be a strong pitcher who will give you six or seven innings of quality baseball. With the bullpen he has behind him this year, he can leave in the seventh inning and not wonder if the pen will hold them for him.
Among the tall trees and the rough cut stones on the Cincinnati pitching staff, there is one diamond waiting to be polished.
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