Padres prospect LeBlanc hitting stride

Padres prospect LeBlanc hitting stride

DENVER -- When catcher Luke Carlin was optioned to Triple-A Portland last month, he returned to a team that looked much like the one he left in May when he was recalled by the Padres.

But Carlin certainly noticed a difference in at least one player, left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who is regarded as one of the top pitchers in the Padres' Minor League system.

LeBlanc, who was 13-8 with a 2.95 ERA in two Minor League stops last season, got off to a rough start with Portland, posting a 9.27 ERA in April, while faring only just a little better in May (6.56).

But LeBlanc has apparently figured things out in recent weeks, posting a 0.87 ERA with a 3-0 record in five starts. During that stretch, LeBlanc has allowed 17 hits with three walks over 31 innings with 31 strikeouts. Overall, LeBlanc is 10-7 with a 5.22 ERA.

So what has changed?

"His confidence is a lot better now," Carlin said. "I think that a pitcher goes through some spells where they can't command it, getting hit or a string of bad luck. He had a rough start. It's tough to adjust to that mentally when you're coming up, when you're in the league for the first time and you're questioning yourself whether you can do this or not.

"Since then, he's confident, he knows what he wants to do and needs to do to succeed at that level."

Carlin, who was recalled Saturday when catcher Josh Bard went on the disabled list with a strained right triceps, caught LeBlanc on Aug. 2 when he held Albuquerque to two hits over eight scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.

Carlin said that LeBlanc isn't merely relying on his Major League-ready changeup as much as he was early in the season, when the veteran hitters in the Pacific Coast League would often know he was going to use it in critical pitch sequences.

"Wade is working on his curveball a lot and a two-seamer [fastball]," Carlin said. "He's implementing his curveball more, so hitters don't have to eliminate it. It's another weapon in his arsenal. When he's able to use all three pitches and command his fastball like he knows how to, he's pretty good."

San Diego manager Bud Black was talking about the Beavers' pitching staff, LeBlanc, Josh Geer and Cesar Ramos. When asked if all three pitchers would likely join the team after Sept. 1, when roster expands from 25 to 40 players, Black said it was unlikely.

At any rate, LeBlanc figures to contend for a spot in the starting rotation during Spring Training next season, becauase the Padres could have as many as three open spots.

"Ability-wise, he's ready to pitch here," Carlin said. "But there is a lot of experience he still needs to learn, whether he learns it here or Triple-A. You need to see the day-in, day-out preparation that goes into being a big league starter. He is not there yet. But he's finishing strong."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.