Mark Leiter Jr. returned from the minor leagues in late June as a different pitcher than the one who was sent to triple A just four weeks earlier.
The righthander came back relaxed, knowing what to expect from the month he spent in the majors following his debut in April. The results have shown as Leiter’s strikeout rate has spiked in his second major-league stint. He is pitching like he belongs and could get a chance to move into the starting rotation on Tuesday when the Phillies need a replacement for Vince Velasquez.
“I think it would be a great opportunity, and I’d attack it the way I always attack pitching and do my best,” Leiter said. “But that’s really out of my control. So I’m just focused on my task right now, and that’s to get ready to pitch again out of the bullpen and get myself ready to go as soon as possible.”
Velasquez will miss at least two starts during his time on the disabled list. His return is unclear. Manager Pete Mackanin said on Friday that it was hard to say whether Velasquez will pitch again this season. Velasquez said he is confident he’ll be back. The Phillies will likely fill his place with either Leiter or Ben Lively, whose rotation turn at triple A falls on the same day.
In his last two relief appearances, Leiter has struck out 16 batters without a walk while allowing just one run in 9 1/3 innings. He is averaging 10.87 strikeouts per nine innings since returning to the majors, a 45 percent increase over the mark he had before being sent to triple A. The strikeouts come as no surprise to Leiter. He twice led the entire organization in strikeouts when he was a minor leaguer.
Leiter said the source of his success is simple: he’s executing his pitches with consistency. Leiter is relying more on his fastball, throwing more strikes, and has drastically reduced his walk rate. It would be interesting to see him test this success in the starting rotation.
“Anytime you’re pitching good you have to keep rolling with it, but you have to understand that this is a humbling game, and it will come and get you as soon as your start feeling too good about yourself,” Leiter said. “Bad games are around the corner, too. You have to try and limit those as much as you can and try to keep to going and ride the momentum that you have.”
Zach Eflin will start Sunday’s series finale against Mets righthander Chris Flexen. Eflin could push himself into consideration for a spot in next season’s rotation if he finishes the season strong. … Odubel Herrera is tied for second in Wins Above Replacement for a Phillies player through their first three major-league seasons. Herrera’s mark of 10.9 is tied with Scott Rolen and trails only Mike Schmidt’s 11.7.