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Pirates notebook: Reliever LeBlanc downplays role in Monday's Reds game

Chris Adamski
| Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 8:45 p.m.

Wade LeBlanc expertly played the self-deprecation card.

But make no mistake, LeBlanc was much-appreciated and well-lauded for contributions he made during Monday's game that go beyond his stats that evening against the Cincinnati Reds.

“He gave us a real nice shot in the arm,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Big-time.”

LeBlanc's 5 13 innings pitched were clean (just one baserunner — albeit a solo home run by Eugenio Suarez), but that's only part of the story. The performance had wide-ranging reverberations, even as far as the employment of his fellow bullpen mates.

“(Monday's game) could have got disconnected a couple different ways,” Hurdle said, “and we could be looking at different personnel out in the clubhouse today.”

With multiple relievers already off limits Monday, in part, because of the extra-innings game Sunday, if LeBlanc hadn't eaten up so many innings it would have drained the bullpen enough that reinforcements would have been necessary from Triple-A.

“What if (Tuesday scheduled starter Jameson Taillon) takes a line drive off the shin in the third inning?” Hurdle asked, hypothetically. “There's a real mindset of having innings available to cover guys.”

LeBlanc, 32, made his major-league debut in 2008 and has not spent a full season in the majors since, splitting every year from 2008-16 (with the exception of 2015, when he was in Japan) between Triple-A and the majors.

That will teach you humility, if nothing else. And the affable LeBlanc displayed a good sense of humor about his long-relief role — one he's embracing.

On if he approached coming into the game during the second inning with a mindset that he'd need to conserve energy or alter pitch sequences: “Facing big league hitters, you can't really conserve anything — especially when you're trying to get big league hitters out with the stuff I have.”

On if he enjoyed batting with the bases loaded, as he did against the Reds' Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen on Monday: “Not against those guys. I need to hit against me.”

On if he took pride in taking one for the team to preserve everyone else: “I joked with the guys that I want to get through this season with seven relievers. So whatever I can do to help make that happen, I'm game.”

On his approach at the plate: “If you get a hit it's a bonus. You try to be competitive. I wasn't. But you try.”

LeBlanc was having fun at the expense of himself, but he entered the game with a more-than-respectable .250 career average over 112 at-bats with the Padres, Marlins, Astros, Yankees, Angels, Mariners and Pirates.

Of course, his true value is as a versatile left-hander. A veteran of 128 major league games and 79 starts, LeBlanc can fill in as a long man, work a late inning, get a lefty out, even spot start.

With the exception of the latter, he's shown it all since being acquired in a minor league trade from Seattle on Sept. 13. He's allowed just 13 baserunners (11 hits, two walks) in 17 23 innings for the Pirates since.

“Go look at the 12 innings he worked last year,” Hurdle said. “There was speed, there was spin, there was change of pace, location.

“He plays off hitters' adrenaline. There's a number of pitchers in the league that play off hitters' adrenaline — speeds them up, slows them down. And by speeding them up, he's throwing 85-87 (mph), but he runs balls in on people.”

Dual long men

LeBlanc joins Trevor Williams as “stretched-out” options for Hurdle to turn to when he needs a “long man.” Williams was in the competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation until the final days of spring training.

However, he made his season debut Sunday with two effective innings and therefore wasn't available to pitch several innings Monday.

Hurdle wanted to avoid using Williams Tuesday because he knew that, with LeBlanc shot, he'd be stuck without a long man Wednesday.

As far as whom he would turn to in the event a starter gets knocked out early and Williams and LeBlanc were fresh and available, Hurdle didn't commit to one over the other.

“Touch and feel,” Hurdle said. “Look at the (opponents') lineup as far as opportunity.”

Harrison returns

After sitting out Monday's game following getting struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning Sunday, Josh Harrison was back at second base and back in the familiar (for this season) No. 7 spot in the batting order Tuesday.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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