Every year, plenty of starters transition into a new phase of their careers by throwing in relief. It's a little less common for it to work the other way around, but that's what Chris Leroux's aiming to do.
The Triple-A Indianapolis right-hander, making his third International League start this season, tossed seven one-hit innings Monday night. He struck out five without issuing any walks to keep Charlotte off the board before the Knights scored in the eighth inning to prevail, 1-0, over the Indians.
Leroux made 11 starts in 2006 between three levels in the Marlins' system after being picked in the seventh round of the 2005 Draft. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen during the next five years and spent the majority of his time there with Indianapolis this season.
But the Montreal native made his first start July 26 and has seen strong early returns, going 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his three outings.
"I'm feeling good, I kind of got a taste of it in the Dominican [Winter League] this offseason when I was starting for [Toros del Este]," he said. "A few weeks ago, I asked if I could start and they said, 'No,' but when Rudy Owens got traded to Houston, they finally said I could do it. I'm happy they did and I'm enjoying it."
Leroux's first start didn't go quite so smoothly as he went 0-4 between three levels in 2006 with a 6.06 ERA. He struck out 22 and walked 19 in 32 2/3 innings.
After that, he settled in as a reliever, working his way up the Marlins system to Triple-A New Orleans before landing in the Pittsburgh organization before the 2011 season. Last year with the Indians, going 6-3 with a 2.80 ERA over 32 appearances. He struck out 57 and walked 21 in 32 2/3 innings.
That led to a callup to the Majors, where he recorded a 2.88 ERA with 24 strikeouts and seven walks in 25 innings for the Pirates.
Still, he said, he'd always been itching to get back on the mound as a starter.
"The Marlins didn't give me much of a shot, they threw me in the bullpen [quickly]. I don't think that was fair, but I was walking a lot of guys back then," he said. "I've found myself now. I'm able to repeat my delivery, throw strikes, it's working well."
Leroux credited a lot of his resurgence as a starting pitcher to the work he put in last year and this offseason with Pittsburgh pitching coordinator Jim Benedict.
"It was more of just finding my natural arm slot. Last year we worked a lot, that was big for me, getting help from him," said the 28-year-old. "He reinforced it a lot. He's a guy that doesn't stop, that was the major key to my success."
Right now, Leroux is pitching strictly out of the stretch, not wanting to mess with success. For the season, he has a 2.27 ERA, striking out 31 and walking eight, in 29 2/3 innings. He made one three-inning start for Class A Advanced Bradenton in a rehab appearance in early June.
He said he's looking forward to making advances as a starter, hoping it leads to a return to the big leagues.
"I'm doing well, I feel good about my mechanics. I'm not even sure if I get called up that I'll be starting -- it could be in a long relief role or anywhere -- so I don't want to mess with anything. I'm feeling too good right now to mess with it."
On Monday, Greg Golson singled to center in the eighth to bring in Jared Mitchell for the game's only run.