Arizona conditions not easy on pitchers

Arizona conditions not easy on pitchers

Arizona conditions not easy on pitchers
PEORIA, Ariz. -- During his first outing of the spring, Padres lefty Wade LeBlanc delivered to Seattle's Josh Wilson, a pitch that he executed about as well as he possibly could.

"I threw a really good cutter in on his hands and jammed him. It broke his bat, but he put enough on it where it got up in the air ... up in the wind and it kept carrying," LeBlanc said. "[Shortstop Jason Bartlett] couldn't get it, and it fell.

"Instead of having an out, you are working out of the stretch one batter into the game."

Welcome to Arizona, where evaluating pitching performances can be a tricky deal when hard infields and thin air can conspire to bloat ERAs.

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"The good part about it is, this is still Spring Training, so you don't have to die with every pitch like you do in the regular season," LeBlanc said. "... But it can be a tough place to pitch.

"You go out and you focus on executing your pitches. The result isn't as important as the process. The goal is to work mechanically and to execute your pitches. After that ... you can't really control what happens."

LeBlanc said the thin air can also cause trouble with the ability to throw certain kinds of pitches, like his two-seam fastball, which has about as much movement in Arizona as it does, say, at Coors Field in Denver -- which is not much at all.

These are reasons why Padres manager Bud Black, a former pitcher himself, won't be swayed much by statistical analysis during Spring Training. He will trust his eye more than anything.

"We watch every pitch, every play with a pretty keen eye," Black said. "We're not only looking at the results, which sometimes can be skewed based on Arizona. But we're also looking at a lot of pitching principals -- does a guy throw first-pitch strikes, does a guy get ahead in the count, what was the quality of each pitch?

"We look at the quality of each pitch. We're watching side sessions, how they're going through drills. Competitions are more than just statistically driven."

That's good news for a pitcher like LeBlanc, who is in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. While other pitchers in camp are getting stretched out for the season, he's trying to win a job.

"Once it's off the bat, it's out of your control," LeBlanc said. "I would like to think the coaching staff is looking at a lot of things."