Leake shaky in first start

Published 1:16 am Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Associated Press


SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jeremy Jeffress’ fastball has registered triple digits on radar guns. Where that fastball goes after it leaves his right hand had been anybody’s guess.

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Jeffress showed superb control Tuesday in two perfect innings, striking out two, as the Kansas City Royals beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-5. Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain homered for the Royals, while Johnny Giavotella and Eric Hosmer each drove in two runs.

Jeffress, Milwaukee’s 2006 first-round pick who was acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, began last season in the Royals bullpen, but was sent to the minors May 19 after walking 11 in 15 1-3 innings.

He threw 16 strikes in 24 pitches against the Reds.

“I was really impressed with the amount of strikes I threw,” Jeffress said. “Last year was a pretty tough year with the walks.”

Derrick Lewis, his pitching coach in the Arizona Fall League, made an adjustment in Jeffress’ delivery that could pay huge dividends.

“He said he didn’t throw hard, but he knew mechanics,” Jeffress said. “I told him, ‘Get me the mechanics and I’ll do the rest.”’

In three exhibition outings, Jeffress has allowed one hit, walked one and struck out four in four innings.

“Jeffress jumped out at me pretty good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We all know his stuff is extremely electric. He does throw 96 to 100 miles per hour. He has a fantastic breaking ball. Command has been what he’s battled in his career to this point. The last five or six outings in the fall league something clicked for him. He got to a point where his mechanics were working for him and he started banging strikes. He’s brought that into spring training. It’s been a real pleasant surprise seeing him command the ball the way that he has.”

Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who was the Royals’ key offseason acquisition in a trade with San Francisco, gave up four runs on three hits, including Jay Bruce’s homer, and two walks in two-plus innings. He threw 51 pitches, 30 for strikes.

“I was trying to throw my off-speed pitches behind in the count,” Sanchez said. “I’m getting there. It doesn’t matter what happened. I’m good. I’m just getting my rhythm and getting the feel of the game. I missed my spot with Bruce, left a fastball over the middle. That happens once in a while, but it’s not going to happen again.”

Yost called it “a good step” for Sanchez.

Mike Leake, the Reds’ starter, allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks in three innings in his third start.

“Everything was working fine,” said Leake, who led the Reds with 12 victories last year. “It was just dropping the elbow and getting in a few 2-0 counts. I feel strong. I even felt strongest in that last inning. I feel good about where I’m at right now.”

Many hits off Leake were ground balls.

“It’s Arizona, so I think all the infields are hard,” said Leake, who was a 2009 first-round pick out of Arizona State. “I’m glad I was getting ground balls, but they were finding holes. A couple of those found their way through the five (third base) hole that they were working.”

Bruce, who also had a run-producing single in the third, extended his hitting streak to six games, the longest this spring by the Reds. Scott Rolen went 0-for-1 and walked twice, ending his five-game hitting streak.

Notes: Royals C Salvador Perez left after the first inning with a knee injury. Yost said Perez hurt his knee while warming up Sanchez in the bullpen. He was taken for an MRI. . Royals DH Mike Moustakas was a late scratch with a sore right knee, which was bruised after being hit by a pitch Monday. . Reds LF Chris Heisey struck out in the third and fifth innings and has struck out 10 times in 21 at-bats.