Different styles, same goal for Leake, Chapman
Battling for fifth rotation spot, Reds pitchers blocking out noise, focusing on job
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman are competing for the same patch of real estate that is the fifth spot in the Reds' rotation. The biggest deciding factor at the end of camp probably comes down to this:
Do the Reds feel Chapman can help them more as a starter or as the closer? That doesn't exactly comfort Leake, who was the fifth starter in 2012 and is entering his fourth big league season. He isn't fully grasping why his team wants to make Chapman a starter.
"Not exactly, but it's what they want to do," Leake said after his start vs. the Angels on Tuesday. "I don't know or understand it completely, but they have their reasons. It's not my concern. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing."
Chapman felt likewise about the competition.
"I don't think about that," Chapman said with Miguel Cairo interpreting. "I'm going out there, doing my job and pitching the way I normally pitch."
Both Leake and Chapman faced the Angels during a 6-4 loss. In his three-inning start, during which he faced several members of the regular lineup, Leake gave up four hits with two strikeouts and didn't allow a run.
Chapman followed with two innings of relief and gave up one run and three hits, including Howie Kendrick's leadoff homer to left field in the fourth. Chapman walked one and struck out one.
"Leake was really good. Chapman was pretty good," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Both Leake and Chapman broke in with the Reds in 2010, with Leake being the No. 8 overall Draft pick who bypassed the Minors and Chapman a $30 million free agent signing after defecting from Cuba.
This is Leake's fourth camp with the Reds -- three of them have involved battling his way onto the roster, including his first camp as a non-roster player when he was the surprise sensation of spring. Not only did he pitch well in those past springs, he needed some luck as well.
"It speaks to the fact that we've gotten the guy we drafted," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "Amongst the physical talents the Leaker has, he is gifted as far as his makeup and ability to compete. He's a tremendous competitor. It doesn't hurt anybody to have to come to camp to compete for a position."
Last spring, Chapman was the best starter in camp but was moved to the bullpen because three relievers were injured.
"It definitely helps me," Leake said of having to battle. "I tend to kind of get comfortable. I like the competition because it gets me going a little bit more."
Against the Angels, Leake began the first inning by striking out Mike Trout and ended it by getting Albert Pujols to break his bat on a soft grounder to shortstop in his first spring plate appearance. Leake gave up a leadoff single to Josh Hamilton in the second inning, but erased him with Mark Trumbo's 4-6-3 double play. After a Chris Iannetta double, he was left stranded when Peter Bourjos looked at a called strike three.
"It's more fun to face big-name lineups," said Leake, who gave up one run and two hits in his previous start vs. the D-backs in a Thursday split-squad game. "It's a little bit more of a challenge and good to see where you're at and what your pitches are doing against big names."
Chapman, who retired all six batters he faced in two innings vs. the Rockies in the other split-squad game last week, once again made use of his secondary pitches.
"I felt good, and I was good with the command of all my pitches," Chapman said. "It's important right now because now that I'm a starter, I have to use all my breaking pitches. It was important to command all my breaking pitches and my fastball."
After Kendrick's homer, Chapman was down in a 3-1 count to Pujols before rallying to strike him out with a slider. But Chapman needed 24 pitches to get through the inning as he gave up a pair of two-out singles.
"It's early," Baker said. "I don't want him to be in midseason form right now. Sometimes I think we expect too much from him all the time."
That hasn't been an issue for Leake during his career.
"I like to be counted out," Leake said. "It gives me a little bit of fire when I am and makes me feel like I need to prove a little bit more. On the other side, it is nice to be respected and feel like I belong a little bit. ... I like to come and be that guy that surprises rather than expected to do things."
Leake, 25, was 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA in a career-high 30 starts and 179 innings last season, after he rebounded from an 0-5 start and 7.71 ERA in his first six outings. In 2011, he led the team with 12 wins and 118 strikeouts.
Chapman recorded 38 saves in 43 chances after moving into the closer's role on May 20. He had a 1.51 ERA last season with 23 walks and 122 strikeouts over 71 2/3 innings in 68 relief appearances.
The difference in the two pitching styles and approaches could not be more striking.
While Chapman is a left-handed power pitcher with triple-digit velocity, Leake is right-handed and relies on his finesse. Chapman can overcome mistakes with his heat, while Leake will always need to have pinpoint control for success.
The Reds have been coy about divulging how exactly they would handle Chapman's workload if he did successfully make the rotation. Also unknown is the type of role Leake would have -- but he is strongly respected by Price and Baker. There would seem to be a role for Leake on the big league club one way or another.
With his past history, it wouldn't be wise to count Leake out of the rotation.
"As much as we talk about the fight for the fifth starter's spot, it doesn't really resonate with me to think about Mike not being on our ballclub," Price said. "There will definitely be some difficult decisions to be made at the end of Spring Training. However, hopefully all those things take care of themselves and we don't have to make decisions that affect guys we think can help us at the Major League level."