3/14/2014 8:25 P.M. ET
LeBlanc to hone breaking ball vs. other lefties
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Wade LeBlanc is the rare left-handed pitcher who struggles against left-handed hitters, and perhaps because of it, he is on his fourth team in four years. Opposing lefties have posted a .921 OPS against him in his Major League career, compared with .753 for right-handers. In the Minor Leagues last year, lefties had an .866 OPS, trumping the .778 clip righties put up.
LeBlanc has lacked an effective breaking ball, a pitch that would tail away from lefties rather than break in on them as the others do.
And that is what this spring is all about.
"I have a fastball, a cutter and a changeup that I'm really comfortable with," said LeBlanc, who was obtained on a Minor League contract in November. "But I needed to really work on the way I attack left-handed hitters, because that's always been a weakness of mine, and I feel like I've really figured something out along those lines this offseason. So far in camp, it's been pretty successful."
LeBlanc, 29, was selected by the Padres in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, posted a 4.54 ERA in 54 games (52 starts) over his first four seasons in the big leagues, was traded to the Marlins for catcher John Baker in November 2011, posted a 3.67 ERA in 25 games (nine starts) in 2012 and struggled mightily this past season.
LeBlanc had a 5.18 ERA in 48 2/3 innings in Miami and was claimed off waivers by the Astros in early June. He posted a 4.71 ERA in 49 2/3 innings in the Astros' Triple-A affiliate and gave up 10 runs (five earned) in 6 1/3 innings spanning four relief appearances in the Majors.
If Joe Blanton is traded or released this spring -- a strong chance -- LeBlanc could wind up as the Angels' sixth starter.
And considering clubs rarely go through a full season with only five starters, he could get plenty of chances in the big leagues.
"I think there's an opportunity," LeBlanc said. "But with that being said, it's all about production. If I happen to go Triple-A, I have to produce. If I happen to make this team, I have to produce. No matter where you're at, you have to put up some numbers to make some people take notice. And that's the whole goal, regardless of where you're at."
Amid mixed results, Skaggs looks past pitching line
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Tyler Skaggs has not necessarily been lights out with the Angels this spring, but he has been good, probably even a little better than the numbers would suggest, and the 22-year-old left-hander does not necessarily have to be otherworldly to claim the rotation's fifth spot.
"I think it's going pretty good," Skaggs said after a good-but-not-great Friday outing against the Padres. "I'm just happy that I'm healthy, and having fun. That's the most important thing is having fun."
Skaggs had a blast Sunday, when he pitched four scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Reds. Against the Padres -- one of few teams that actually know him well -- he gave up three runs and one solo homer in an 83-pitch, four-inning outing, and four guys stole bases off him. But he also did not give up a walk and threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 19 batters he faced.
One scout noted that he threw better than his pitching line, which was evident in a two-run fourth inning that saw him give up four singles that trickled past the infield, and said he simply needed to locate his fastball better against right-handed hitters.
The breaking ball, however, was sharp from the get-go.
"It was a good pitch today," said Skaggs, who has a 4.35 ERA in 10 1/3 innings this spring. "They weren't hitting it too well, so we kept going to it. Fastball command was pretty good today. Threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. But it's one of those things where the curveball was working, and that's what I would do during the season anyway."
Cron has positive outlook after big spring
PEORIA, Ariz. -- C.J. Cron didn't leave big league camp without making a lasting impression.
The 24-year-old right-handed power hitter, ranked second in the Angels' system by MLB.com and set to begin his first season at Triple-A Salt Lake, batted .400 (6-for-15) in Cactus League play, with a homer and six RBIs, and continued to improve his strike-zone awareness.
"Not just this spring, but if you look at his growth from the middle part of last year through the [Arizona] Fall League, and what he showed this spring, there's no doubt that he's starting to develop into the hitter everyone projected," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully, as he continues to refine some stuff and get that practical experience of being at a higher level, it's going to move him onto our depth chart."
Defensively, Scioscia said Cron was "much improved" at first base, particularly because he had fully recovered from the knee surgery he was coming off of in 2012 and the shoulder surgery he was recovering from in 2013. And though Scioscia did not want to speculate, Cron could come up later this season to serve as a platoon designated hitter alongside the left-handed-hitting Raul Ibanez.
The easy Cron comparison is Mark Trumbo, a big right-handed hitter with defensive limitations of his own.
But Scioscia disagrees.
"It's tough to compare anyone to Trumbo, because Trumbo is in a class of his own," Scioscia said. "But this kid has power to all fields. Maybe not the raw power of Trumbo, who can hit the ball farther than anybody we've seen since Vlad Guerrero. But C.J. Cron has legitimate power to all fields, which is going to be very functional for him."
• Josh Hamilton (strained left calf) said he felt good on Thursday after taking live batting practice for the first time. He expected to run the bases on Saturday and could make his Cactus League debut as soon as Monday.
• Scioscia said he still had no update on when Dane De La Rosa (strained right forearm) could pick up a baseball again. De La Rosa has been doing strengthening exercises since exiting early on March 6.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.