The Indianapolis Indians have been losing starting pitchers at an alarming rate in the past couple of weeks. Rudy Owens was traded, Jeff Locke has been promoted to the Pirates, and Justin Wilson is set to move to the bullpen. In addition to promoting Kyle McPherson from AA Altoona, the Indians are attempting to fix the starting pitcher deficit by moving Chris Leroux to the starting rotation.
Leroux has been a reliever for most of his pro career. In fact, before this season, he had not started since his rookie season in 2006. He was moved to the bullpen in 2007, while playing for the Florida Marlins’ A-level affiliate. In 2009, the Montreal native made his major league debut in May, and made 5 relief appearances for the Marlins. He made 17 more relief appearances for Florida in 2010, and after moving to the Pirates, added another 6 relief spots. Last season, after 5 games in relief with the AA Altoona Curve, Leroux split his time between the Pirates and the Indy Indians, combining for 55 relief appearances.
The righty pitcher did particularly well in 2011, with remarkably similar ERA’s in both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. In 63 games for the Indians, pitching mostly middle relief, Leroux was effective. He began a little shaky in June in Indianapolis, allowing 5 earned runs in 11.1 innings (3.97 ERA). He bounced back and forth between Indy and Pittsburgh in July (mostly due to roster issues), but with the Pirates, he allowed one earned run in a total of 6 innings (1.50 ERA). He had one particularly difficult outing with the Pirates in August, when he faced 4 batters and gave up 4 hits and 3 runs, without recording an out. He finished up the season with the Pirates for September, making 13 appearances. Most were scoreless, though he had trouble in three of them. Overall, Leroux appeared to be completely tucked into the bullpen, filling a middle- to – long relief role, and satisfied to have made some positive strides over the 2011 season.
Then he went to the Dominican to pitch for Los Toros in the Dominican Winter League. He continued to do well, but found himself thrust into the role of starting pitcher. The Pirates wanted him in that role to force him to focus on his secondary pitches. At first it was not a comfortable position for Leroux to be in, but before too long, his opinion began to change. “I started enjoying myself a lot more starting.”
The 2012 season began with Leroux on the Disabled List, due to a torn pectoral muscle. When it was time to come back, he made one appearance for the Bradenton Marauders. That was a start, but not really, as it was for rehab purposes. He pitched 3 innings and allowed one run on 2 hits. He was declared fit for duty, and was reinstated from the DL and sent to the Indians in June. His first month was a little shaky, pitching 8.1 innings in 8 appearances, and allowing 4 runs on 9 hits. He improved in July, when he gave up 4 runs in 13.1 innings (2.70 ERA) over 6 games. The first four of those outings were 1 – 2 innings long. Then his appearances started getting longer. He pitched 3.2 innings of relief on July 18th, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits. On July 23rd, he was stretched to 4 innings of work — scoreless and allowing just one hit.
Leroux had asked to try the starting role again when he was sent to the Indians. At first, the answer was “no”, but the trades and other personnel moves forced the organization to reconsider and give him the chance.
Leroux’s first start came on July 26th. He pitched 5 scoreless innings and scattered 5 hits and one walk, and earned his first win of the season. He started again on July 31st, this time going 6 innings and allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and one walk. Then on August 6th, Leroux pitched a 7-inning start, allowing just one hit and keeping the Charlotte Knights scoreless. He reported that he has not changed anything, but just continuing to do what worked for him last year and over the winter in the Dominican.
“I throw my slider for strikes, and I’m able to get ahead with the two-seamer,” Leroux said. “I think I’m just really able to repeat my delivery a lot more now, and I’m finding more success.”
He has looked strong and confident on the mound, and completely in command, particularly on August 6th. His next start should be on Saturday, in Columbus.
Now he’s hoping to continue that trend, and hoping that it is noticed.
“I think it’s kind of an eye-opener, hopefully for the Pirates, and hopefully for 30 other teams,” Leroux said.
Starters are more valuable than relievers….why not start him?