|Wade LeBlanc was one of five foreign imports that were new for 2015|
Recently, he won the International League (AAA) pitcher of the month with an 0.70 ERA. At the time of this writing, he is 6-1 with a 1.57 ERA at the AAA (ni-gun) level of the Blue Jays. While he is seen as roster filler for the organization, an opportunity can always arise if an injury comes and they need a spot start.
In the interview, he was asked about his time in Japan and with the Seibu Lions. Here is the transcript of what he said:
On preparation being different when pitching is on a roll:
"I don't think stuff looks different, I think you feel like everything is repeatable mechanically, from what you pitch and where it's going to go. A lot of it has to do with luck in the pitching streak. You could throw a fastball down the middle and someone pops it up [or] hits a home run. A lot of it has to do with luck and timing."
On being on the fringe between MLB and MiLB:
"I spent last year in Japan. Coming back over here, I wasn't sure if teams remembered who I was. The fact I got a job here and something to play baseball here in America was something my family and I were excited about."
"We have two little boys and we still get to see the games. When you keep it in perspective, it brings it back to a game, not a job or life or death, where you go to and where you're at."
On time with the Lions:
"It was crazy, it's hard to explain. When people ask me, the best way to explain it, I think, it would be exactly what you think Japan would be like. Which the people were great, they have so much respect for other lives and they keep the town clean and all of that stuff."
"And the baseball, people are nuts about baseball. You go over there they sell out the game, they have instruments in the crowd, they have a chant for every player out there and it doesn't matter if it's a 50-run game or a tie game. They're going to be singing and staying the whole game. It's a crazy experience [and] I loved it."
On other Americans being teammates:
"I had one other American (Anthony Seratelli), a guy from the Dominican Republic (Esmerling Vasquez), a Puerto Rican (Miguel Mejia) and a guy from Venezuela (Ernesto Mejia)."
"That's an interesting thing to be thrown into. I was fortunate enough to have nothing but great guys on the team. We got along right off the gates. Everybody, sometimes it's hard for Latins, they're all great guys, maybe they don't speak English as well, but all these guys spoke English well [and] they were happy to be there. Everybody was just enjoying it and hanging out. Luckily we were all able to get along and kind of bond over it. "
On being different in approach/mechanics since Japan:
"Stuff and mechanics is the same. Approach, I can say I became a little bit different. I became a little more aware of how simple baseball needs to be. When you go over there and watch the pitchers over there and the way they go after getting outs, it's pretty eye opening."
"You grow up in America and you're taught 'two balls no strikes, command a fastball, command a fastball.' Then you go over there and you see bases are loaded, a 3-1 count and they're throwing a curveball like it's no balls, no strikes with nobody on base."
"They're throwing anything in any count, whatever it takes to get an out and their whole goal is to keep the ball off the barrel at the end of the bat, the sweet spot of the bat."
"So when you think about that, it's really the whole premise of pitching is to keep the ball off the barrel. To keep guys from hitting the ball hard. It's not necessarily strike everybody out. For a lack of better words, it's to keep guys from hitting the ball hard."
"You go over there, you see guys with an inch of movement here and an inch of movement there, or a pitch they're now looking for, it's really all you need."
"When I came back, I really thought about times that I've been actually able to do that in my career and those are the times I've been the most successful. So I figured if it worked here and it works for them over there, why not try to utilize that every time I step on the mound?"
"So far it's worked, I don't think it will work every time, but we're seeing some pretty good results so far. So I guess I'll stick to it."
In eight starts with the Lions, LeBlanc had three quality starts with a 2-5 record and a 4.23 ERA. He had a lack of zip in his pitches, forcing some great defense in order to get outs. His highlight of the 2015 season was pitching a complete game against the Rakuten Golden Eagles as well as a competitive loss to future MLB prospect, Shohei Otani.
The Lions released LeBlanc before the 2015 season ended as he wouldn't play a game after June due to injury.
LeBlanc's words on the approach to baseball as a pitcher in Japan shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's watched the game for awhile. But we here at Graveyard Baseball watched NPB for the first time in 2015 and were able to observe the same thing on no fastball counts.
Japan has its own identity and while the talent level will obviously never match what's in MLB, it's a fresh perspective for a sport that's our pastime. We're thankful LeBlanc embraced his short time there, even if it didn't work out on the field. We wish him the best of luck going forward.
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