CINCINNATI — Zack Cozart’s pre-game preparation to face former teammate Mike Leake was pure and simple — well, at least pure, “Cucumber water.”
That, though, was nothing out of the ordinary for Cozart, the Cincinnati Reds All-Star-bound shortstop. He drinks cucumber water before, during and after games.
And, of course, the Reds had a meeting for the hitters to discuss Leake and there is hours of videotape of Leake n demand. Leake walked to the Great American Ball Park mound Tuesday night for the St. Louis Cardinals with four wins in his last five starts. And over his last six starts he has given up only five total runs.
LEAKE, THE REDS NO. 1 draft pick out of Arizona State University in 2009, was traded to the San Francisco Giants last July for Adam Duvall. Leake became a free agent after last season and signed a six-year $93 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals — which is why he is no longer pitching for the Reds (unaffordable).
Now he faced his former teammates for the first time.
“It is going to be weird because I’m used to being out there at shortstop behind him,” said Cozart, who entered the game hitting .303 with eight homers and 22 RBI, most of those numbers coming after he displaced Billy Hamilton as the team’s leadoff hitter. “It will be fun competing against him because he is a competitor out there. He is going to come after us, not try to trick us, because that’s that kind of pitcher he is. He wants you to put the ball in play early. I’m looking forward to it. Should be fun.”
SO WHO HAS AN ADVANTAGE when a team faces a former pitching teammate and a pitcher faces his former team?
“He has seen me play just as much as I’ve seen him play,” said Cozart. “He knows everything I’m going to do. He is going to compete and obviously wants to do good against us.”
FEW PEOPLE KNOW Leake better than manager Bryan Price, who was Leake’s pitching coach for most of Leake’s service time in Cincinnati.
“Like always, it plays both ways,” said Price. “He’ll be very familiar with the group of players in our lineup and we’ll have a familiarity with the way he pitches. But it always come down to pitch execution.
“He always throws a lot of strikes, uses both sides of the plate, throws a cutter to both right handers and left handers with a full mix of complemental pitches. He swings the bat well, fields his position, controls the running game. He does a lot of good things,” Price added. “But we have been swinging the bats well and hopefully that continues.”
DISABLED PITCHER ANTHONY DeSclafani threw a side session before Tuesday’s game and the Reds have pronounced him finally ready to take his rightful spot in the rotation, beginning Friday night against the Oakland Athletics in GABP.
Remember all the excitement about Jon Moscot coming off the DL and joining the rotation? That exuberance lasted only two starts and now he is back at Class AAA Louisville with DeSclafani grabbing his rotation spot.
In those two starts Moscot pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up 12 runs and 13 hits (19.06 earned run average). He was the starter in Colorado when the Reds lost 17-4 and he was crushed for seven runs and eight hits in two innings. In his next start, Sunday afternoon at home against Washington, he pitched three hitless innings (once through the batting order), then gave up five runs and five hits in two-thirds of the fourth inning.
SO MOSCOT IS BACK TO square one in his development.
“He threw strikes, but his quality of strikes wasn’t what we were used to seeing in Triple-A before we called him up last year and before he hurt his (non-pitching) shoulder last year,” said Price. “He was in his third start in Detroit when he got hurt (diving to make a tag at second base) and he was just beginning to settle in and compete more with pitch quality and he got hurt. He needs to go down and rebuild his confidence and rebuild his ability to knock down quality pitches with more consistency.
“We saw him real good the first time through the lineup against Washington and then the second time through they got on him and took advantage of some mistaskes,” said Price. “He has to execute better pitches and keep working on his change-up and curve ball because those are his third and fourth best pitches and they need to blend in with the slider as quality secondary pitches he can access when he needs them.”
THIS IS DeSCLAFANI’S SECOND attempt to come back from a spring training oblique injury. He was close to returning a month ago but tweaked the oblique on a rehab assignment and had to start over.
“There hasn’t been any setbacks this time around and we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Price. “Now we’d love to have Homer Bailey and Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen back. We’ll have two of the three back in mid-June (Iglesias, Lorenzen), barring any setbacks, and Homer at some point in July. So we’re moving forward in a good way. We talk so much about rebuilding but to rebuild you actually have to have players who are part of the rebuild on your club. And we’re starting that initially with the addition of Disco (DeSclafani).”