Programming note: Giants-Rangers coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Leake didn’t waste any time after he was informed that he had been traded from the Reds to the Giants, changing his Twitter profile photo to a shot of him wearing orange and black. He hopped on an early flight Friday and was the first player to the ballpark in Arlington, arriving about half an hour before the first team bus.
Leake is eager to prove his worth in a pennant race, but he didn’t exactly think it would happen in San Francisco. Up until Thursday night, Leake thought he would end up with an American League East club.
“I’m stunned that it was the Giants,” he said. “I always enjoyed playing against them and enjoyed watching them the last six years. To be called to play for them is a huge opportunity for me. It means you have a chance and we’re going to be in it. I’ll do my best to do my part, and maybe I’m that one thing that helps them get a little bit better.”
The Giants are counting on it. They traded No. 1 prospect Keury Mella to Cincinnati and put Leake right into their rotation. He’ll debut Sunday, with Chris Heston moving up a day to take Tim Hudson’s spot. Hudson is going on the DL with a shoulder strain and when he returns he’ll likely be a reliever.
Leake said he watched tape of Hudson as he was coming up, eager to replicate his style. The 27-year-old was 9-5 with a 3.56 ERA for the Reds this season, but he was far better when pitching away from Great American Ball Park, a bandbox on the edge of the Ohio River. Leake had a 4.93 ERA at home and allowed hitters to bat .286 against him. On the road, the ERA was 2.28 in 10 starts and the opponents average dropped to a paltry .194. The splits for his career are similar, with Leake posting a 4.31 ERA in Cincinnati and a 3.43 ERA elsewhere.
While the trade deadline can often put pressure on pitchers, Leake excelled as rumors swirled. He won each of his last four starts for the Reds, allowing just two earned runs in 30 innings.
“I guess I was just eager to try to get somewhere to compete for the rest of the year,” he said. “It was my goal to pitch as well as I could and play for a contending team.”
The Giants loved the fact that Leake pitched at least seven innings in 11 of his 21 starts for the Reds and seven times got through the eighth. The entire Giants staff has gotten through the eighth inning just eight times this season.
“I like to get early outs,” Leake said. “I like to attack and try to keep a low pitch count. I let my fielders do their work and I pound my spots.”
Leake is more than just a pitcher, though. His 76 hits since his 2010 debut lead all MLB pitchers and he twice (in 2010 and 2012) has led National League pitchers in batting average. He has five career homers, and along with Madison Bumgarner (nine career homers), Matt Cain (six homers), Jake Peavy (riding a three-game hitting streak) and Chris Heston (.225 average) gives the Giants the best-hitting staff in the big leagues. On Day 1 with the Giants, he wasn’t going to get into any good-natured trash talk with Bumgarner, who has three homers this season.
“He’s got me beat right now,” Leake said. “I can’t speak.”
He was willing, however, to speak about an incident from his past that still is part of his reputation. Leake was arrested on shoplifting charges in 2011 and accused of trying to steal six shirts from a Macy’s. The charges were later reduced from theft to unauthorized use of property.
“It was a learning curve,” he said. “By no means was it a theft. It was a mishandling of t-shirts. I wanted to exchange (t-shirts) and I exchanged them the improper way.”
Leake said little Friday that indicated decision-making is a problem. Asked about Cincinnati’s notorious Skyline Chili, he admitted he never tried the greasy pasta-and-chili specialty. When it came time to give up his No. 44 (Willie McCovey’s number), Leake chose 13 because that’s the favorite number of his father, who was a Giants fan.
Leake will have one more big decision to make. The Giants would like to keep him around long-term, but Leake said that’s an issue for the offseason.
“It’s kind of wait-and-see,” he said. “We’ve got work to do (on the field) right now ... We can attack that when the season is done."