LeBlanc, Padres roughed up by Cardinals
Lefty allows four runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings
SAN DIEGO -- It wasn't a lack of effort or desire that led Padres pitcher Wade LeBlanc astray for the second time in five days, but more a lack of quality pitches that has felled him after a blissful start to the season.
LeBlanc allowed four runs over 5 2/3 innings on Thursday, including two home runs, as the Cardinals topped the Padres, 8-3, before a crowd of 20,583 at PETCO Park to avoid being swept in the three-game series.
This start for LeBlanc (2-3) came on the heels of a miserable start in Seattle on May 21 when he allowed eight earned runs in three innings. By no means has he looked like the pitcher who allowed a combined six runs in his first six starts.
"I think that the conviction was there today," said LeBlanc, who allowed solo home runs to Brendan Ryan and Albert Pujols. "The opportunity was there to have a good bounce-back game. I let the guys down. I needed to make good pitches. I didn't.
"By no means is this going to carry on."
For the Padres (28-19), who scored six runs in the three-game series and still managed to win twice, it can't, not with the current state of their offense.
Oddly enough, after winning games of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first two games of the series, the Padres scored three on Thursday, but none in the first five innings off Cardinals starter P.J. Walters (1-0).
Walters allowed four hits, walked two and struck out four, mixing a sinker, slider and a looping curveball to keep the Padres off-balance.
"Walters did a good job of keeping us off-balance, I thought," said Padres right fielder Will Venable, who had two hits, his second multi-hit game since May 7. "He did his job and we just came up a little short in those early innings."
The Padres had 10 hits in the game, though their damage offensively occurred long after Walters left the game.
San Diego manager Bud Black was asked about the scarce offense after the game. Black noted the absence of outfielders Kyle Blanks and Scott Hairston as partial contributors to the Padres' struggles.
But Black stopped short of making excuses for a team where offense lags far behind the combination of pitching and defense as strengths of the team.
"We're missing a couple of pieces, but we've scored enough, manufactured runs and won baseball games," he said. "We're doing enough to win games. I still think a number of our players will rise to a level of expectation to help our offense."
Hairston, who has missed the last 11 games with a strained left hamstring, will likely be sent on a Minor League rehabilitation stint this weekend with a possible return set for a series against the Mets beginning Monday.
Blanks, who has missed the past nine games with a strained left elbow, is still a ways off from returning. Both players are on the disabled list.
"We have to make sure we put four or five quality at-bats together," Venable said. "Some days we're going to have those timely hits and some days we're not. With other teams that have more guys that can give you instant offense, it's subdued where you don't notice [the lack of offense] as much."
As for LeBlanc, who a year ago was demoted to Triple-A Portland after he struggled only to return looking like a different pitcher in September, one who was more aggressive with his fastball in the strike zone, he has to keep the ball down to have success.
When he went 2-1 with three no-decisions and a 1.54 ERA after he was promoted when Chris Young went on the disabled list, LeBlanc showed improved command of his fastball and better secondary pitches to mix in against his changeup, which is considered a plus pitch.
"I think more than anything it was the lack of not getting the ball in good spots," Black said. "Today I saw the ball elevated more than I have all year. There was not enough quality strikes down in the strike zone."
Not to paint a completely disparaging picture of the current state of a team that's still in first place in the National League West and, despite the eight runs allowed Thursday, a team that has consistently won with strong pitching and defense.
"That's a good team," Pujols said. "It's a talented ballclub, and they play hard. They've got good pitching, a good bullpen. There's nothing to be surprised, that's why they're leading the West.
"They're a ballclub that's aggressive. They like to run, they like to steal bases, and that's the way you're going to win games. Sometimes you don't have to hit the long ball. You have to figure out how to contribute those runs. Obviously, that's something that they do."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.