With a voice perhaps as fluttery as his left-handed changeup, Matt Leonard is soft-spoken about a lot, including his winless record.
If the Cal Poly junior pitcher has any anger about his team’s non-offensive trend during some of his best starts, it’s well suppressed.
“I just laugh about it,” Leonard said. “Everyone knows I should have more wins — well, a win. I just expect them to play defense behind me and that’s it.”
Leonard dropped to 0-7 on the season, Cal Poly lost 3-1 to UC Irvine and the Mustangs (13-28, 5-11 Big West) had a season-best three-game winning streak snapped Friday in a Big West Conference series opener against the second-place Anteaters (28-15, 9-4 Big West) at Baggett Stadium.
Leonard lasted eight innings and gave up only two runs on nine scattered hits. Two he didn’t spread out, back-to-back doubles to lead off the seventh, which produced the go-ahead run and broke a 1-1 tie.
As is the case on many Friday nights in the Big West Conference, Leonard ran into a great pitcher. This time it was All-American left-hander Daniel Bibona, who gave up only five hits and struck out six in eight innings.
Three Cal Poly hitters — Luke Yoder, Mitch Haniger and J.J. Thompson — combined for all six of the Mustangs’ hits.
The rest of the team was 0 for 19.
“Lenny’s had four or five really good quality outings,” said Yoder, who batted 3 for 4 and scored on Haniger’s bloop single in the fourth inning. “I know he has a stretch where he put four or five together where he’s going six-seven innings and he’s giving up a run or two, and we can’t get him out of the situation in order to get him a win.
“It’s not really necessarily put on him because he’s giving us opportunities to go out and win the game.”
It was a similar story for Leonard at UCLA when the Bruins were still unbeaten earlier this season. He allowed only two unearned runs in seven innings in a Mustangs loss in Westwood.
Leonard also got a no-decision after allowing just one earned run in 62⁄3 innings at UC Santa Barbara. Of his five no-decisions this season, his start against the Gauchos was the only Cal Poly victory.
But his story isn’t solely told by offensive droughts. Leonard has been the victim of blown leads, fielding errors, you name it. For a guy who’s already experienced the ultimate in bad luck for a pitcher, Tommy John Surgery two years ago, the misfortune is starting to appear excessive.
“I just feel real bad for the guy because he throws his heart out every time he goes out there, and he throws real well,” said Haniger, who was 2 for 4 and drove in the only Cal Poly run. “It’s just crappy looking up and losing every time he throws a great game.
“In my eyes, he should be 7-2. He has a couple no-decisions where we were up and they came back.”
On Friday, Leonard gave up a run in the top of the first inning, then matched Bibona through the sixth.
Both pitchers relied on keeping the opposition off balance — Bibona with a mix of fastball, changeup, cutter and slurve, Leonard with a first-pitch change-up philosophy.
Though poor fastball control gave him more incentive to stick to the game plan, Leonard’s plan all along was to use his changeup to set up the Anteaters, and it worked as well as planned.
The plan at the plate against Bibona, to look for outside pitches to hit could have gone better.
“He’s just a quality pitcher,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “There’s a reason why he’s a first-team All-American pitcher. He knows how to pitch.”
With only 14 games left in the regular season, Leonard is only likely to get three more chances to earn a victory. There’s a possibility he could end up 0-10. There’s also a chance he could win all three.
Neither outcome is likely to affect his self-worth.
“I’d like at least one, but it’s not that big of a deal,” Leonard said. “If we win and don’t I get a decision, then it wouldn’t bother me.”