Weâ€™re off to Minute Maid Park this evening as the Houston Astros host the Cincinnati Reds on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.Â
The MLB on 5 Live show is scheduled to begin at 19.00, with first pitch set for five minutes later.Â Jonny Gould should be back in the presenting chair after missing last weekâ€™s show (UPDATE: in fact, former NFL on 5 presenter Nat Coombs will be in the hot seat), Mike Carlson proving an able deputy, but Josh Chetwynd is taking a break for the delightful reason that his wife is expecting their second child any time soon.Â You can listen to the game via DAB radio or Digital TV.
After a fairly uninspiring start, last weekâ€™s 5 Live game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals turned into an enthralling contest and this weekâ€™s game from the Senior circuit promises to be just as good.Â
The Reds come into the game holding just a half-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central division.Â Itâ€™s been an excellent season so far from Dusty Bakerâ€™s men and the man on the mound for them today has been one of the reasons why.Â Mike Leakeâ€™s rookie campaign has been an incredible story.Â Drafted by the Reds in last yearâ€™s amateur player draft, Leake performed so well in Spring Training that he won a spot in the Redsâ€™ starting rotation without pitching a single inning in the Minor Leagues.Â
Spring Training isnâ€™t always a good guide to a playerâ€™s true potential, but Leake has more than justified the Redsâ€™ confidence in him over his first eighteen starts in the Big Leagues.Â In fact, he has become such an important part of their roster that it has raised a problem for Baker.Â A starting pitcher will normally throw 200+ innings in a regular season, prior to any playoff innings pitched, but pushing a first-year player to pitch so much is extremely risky as his arm is simply not conditioned for such a large amount of work.Â Baker, fairly or not, has gained a reputation of working young pitchers into the ground from his time with the Chicago Cubs, where star young pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood ending up suffering serious injuries after a heavy workload early in their Major League careers.Â The Reds are acutely aware that they need to find a way to get Leake some rest if they want him to pitch into October.
October baseball isnâ€™t something that the Houston Astros need to plan for.Â The â€˜Stros were part of one of the most memorable games broadcast on â€˜Baseball on 5â€™ back in 2005, when their World Series Game Three against the Chicago White Sox lasted 14 innings, finishing at 7 a.m. British time.Â Houstonâ€™s veteran lineup was swept 4-0 in the Fall Classic that year and they havenâ€™t made the playoffs since.Â Owner Drayton McLane has proved reluctant to trade away veteran players to set in motion a desperately-needed rebuilding plan, leaving them with a team not good enough to compete for a playoff spot now and with few exciting prospects to give them hope for the near future either.
The Astros are now in a position where their star players, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, are at the tail-end of expensive contracts and are probably past their best, making them difficult to trade.Â Roy Oswalt is the most attractive of the bunch to other teams and his start yesterday was billed as potentially being his last in an Astros uniform.Â If so, it wasnâ€™t a fitting end to his career in Houston as he was tagged for six runs over five innings.Â The Reds won the game 7-0, with Johnny Cueto pitching eight shutout innings, and they also took the series opener 6-4 on Friday night.Â
The Astros will send Wandy Rodriguez to the mound in an attempt to avoid the series sweep today.Â Rodriguez had an excellent season in 2009 (14-12, 3.02 ERA), but 2010 has not been quite so kind to him so far as he has struggled to find any consistency.Â Houston fans will hope that Rodriguezâ€™s better showings this season at home (4.14. ERA compared to 5.97 on the road) and in day games (4.46 ERA compared to 5.51 at night) are an indication that he is set for a strong outing today.Â
Rodriguez is a lefty whose signature pitch is a sweeping curveball that sits around 75 MPH and is his main â€˜outâ€™ pitch.Â When heâ€™s got command of it and can get ahead of hitters, youâ€™ll see (or in tonightâ€™s case hear) a lot of swing and misses thanks to that hook.Â He mainly works with just a curve and a low nineties fastball that he can spot extremely well, although heâ€™ll occasionally use an 84 MPH change to mix things up as well.
As for Leakeâ€™s arsenal, the right-handerâ€™s bread-and-butter is a sinking fastball that sits around 90 MPH and runs into right-handed hitters (or away from lefties).Â He complements that with a very effective 80-82 MPH circle change that he has good command of, plus a slider and a curveball.
The Reds want to keep ahead of the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central, while the Astros want to avoid the sweep and starting putting a run together for first-year manager Brad Mills.Â Tune into 5 Live Sports Extra this evening to find out who comes out on top.