DUNEDIN — Right-hander Chris Leroux had a very successful offseason pitching for the Toros del Este in the Dominican League. Having altered his arm slot and adding a new pitch during the 2011 season, Leroux saw even better results pitching for the Toros.
Leroux, who will try to break camp with the Pirates this spring, went down to the Dominican to focus on throwing inside and using his changeup.
“I did that, and it went really well,” Leroux said.
Used in the bullpen for the Pirates last season, Leroux was given the opportunity to start with the Toros. Not since 2006 when Leroux was a member of the Florida Marlins organization, had he started in a professional game. But despite what others thought, Leroux knew he could become a starter again.
Over four starts in winter ball, Leroux went 1-1 with a 1.31 ERA. He allowed just three earned runs over 20.2 innings with four walks and 18 strikeouts.
“It was fun,” Leroux said. “Obviously, playing for [Manager] Dean [Treanor] was pretty cool. I had a lot of guys down there that I knew. That kind of made me feel more comfortable. Pitching-wise it went really well. I was throwing all my pitches for strikes. That really helped. And learning how to throw a changeup whenever I could was big for me.”
The Pirates had Leroux starting to force him to work on his secondary pitches in longer outings. His role this season with the big club looks to be from the bullpen. Long relief, high leverage situations, Leroux is willing to take the ball whenever needed.
“I think as the season progresses, the bullpen’s weird,” Leroux said, “Whoever is pitching well, pitches in tight situations. So it doesn’t matter how you start, its how you finish.”
Leroux had a solid year both with Pittsburgh and in the minors during the 2011 season. The year prior didn‘t live up to his expectations. After posting a 6.75 ERA in 23 games with the Pirates in 2010, Leroux knew he needed a change. That’s when he added the new pitch, a slurve, and adjusted his arm slot to more of a three-quarters release. The slurve as a pitch he used to throw back in College at Winthrop University.
The results were much improved. Leroux posted a 2.78 ERA in 37 games in relief (68.0 innings) combined with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indy. With Pittsburgh in 2011, Leroux went 1-1 with a 2.88 ERA over 23 games (25.0 innings) with seven walks and 27 strikeouts.
Leroux said his goal is to pitch well and prove that he deserves a spot with Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old is out of options, so if the club decides to cut him, they would have to designate him for assignment and losing him to another organization.
“I’m just trying to make the club,” Leroux said. “There’s a lot of guys here that can pitch, and a lot of guys that can take my spot. I’m just looking forward to proving to the front office that I can make the club and go up to Pittsburgh.”