March 14, 2011
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Hey, this spring's battle for the Cincinnati Reds' fifth starter spot looks awfully familiar.
And that's really because it should. Like 2010, righthander Mike Leake(notes) (on the, uh, left) and lefthander Travis Wood(notes) (on the, uh, right) are again squaring off for a berth in the Reds' rotation come April.
If you remember correctly, last year's bake-off came down to the wire and it was Leake, who got the initial nod, bypassing the minors after being a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Arizona State product rewarded the Reds' faith by going 7-2 with a 3.57 ERA through July, before struggling over his last few starts and being shut down in August with 138 innings on his big league odometer.
Wood's big league debut, meanwhile, was delayed until he was called up on July 1, but he experienced similar success right out of the gate. He took a perfect game against the Philadelphia Phillies into the ninth inning (his bid was broken by a Carlos Ruiz(notes) double) and went 5-4 with a 3.51 ERA over 17 starts and 102 innings.
Coming into this season, it would appear that Wood, last year's runnerup, has the inside edge on the fifth spot if we're operating under the assumption that Homer Bailey(notes) will be filling the fourth spot (and we are). Wood has allowed four runs and struck out nine over nine innings of work this spring. Though he gave up two runs in four innings of work against a Triple-A Angels lineup on Sunday, Wood said he's feeling better than he was during last year's spring training.
Part of the reason might be an offseason workout plan that he shared with Arkansas neighbor Cliff Lee and part could be just simple experience.
"Being able to go up last year and have some success in the big leagues really was a boost of confidence, and [I] was able to calm the nerves a little bit coming into the spring, so you kind of have an idea about what you want to do and how you want to attack things," Wood told MLB.com.
If Wood is having an encouraging spring, then Leake is on the other end of the spectrum. In nine innings of spring work, Leake has given up 18 runs and three homers while striking out only one. He just labored through four innings of work against the Cubs, though Dusty Baker said the righty has added velocity to his pitches.
While the Leake-Wood jockeying might be the only real position battle in the Reds' camp, it's foolish to inject the situation with too much consequence. Really, the truth is this: With both pitchers still in the early stages of their careers and plenty of innings to go around this season, it's likely we'll be seeing both starting games in Cincinnati.
But like last year, it's probably more a matter of who gets to go first.