LeBlanc struggles in final Grapefruit League start

LeBlanc struggles in final Grapefruit League start

JUPITER, Fla. -- The start on Monday was the fifth and final one in Grapefruit League play for Wade LeBlanc.

What the Marlins' left-hander was hoping for was to feel like he was in midseason form. It didn't quite work out that way.

LeBlanc was sluggish early. Everything from his pace to delivery were a bit off.

"In your last Spring Training start, you want to be as close to midseason form as you can get," LeBlanc said. "Today, it was a little off at the start. The last four innings, especially the last two, were much better. You take those, build on those, and move forward."

LeBlanc worked five innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with four strikeouts in Miami's 6-3 loss to the Tigers at Roger Dean Stadium.

Whether the setback changes the Marlins' evaluation of the lefty remains to be seen. Chances are, it will not. LeBlanc is expected to make one more start before the season gets under way. On Saturday, he will start at New Orleans against Miami's Triple-A affiliate.

And beginning next week, LeBlanc is expected to be the lone lefty in Miami's rotation.

A couple of days ago, manager Mike Redmond said he was leaning towards using LeBlanc as the club's Game 3 starter to open the regular season. If that is true, he would follow Nathan Eovaldi, a power pitcher, and take the mound on April 4 at Washington.

Aside from announcing Ricky Nolasco will start on Opening Day, April 1, the rest of the rotation has not been set publicly. Eovaldi is expected to pitch the second game, followed by LeBlanc.

If that order plays out, then the soft-tossing LeBlanc would provide a different look from the power-pitching Eovaldi.

Redmond was meeting with the front office on Monday night to help determine the rotation, as well as other roster spots.

A decision on the rotation is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

"LeBlanc is a guy who is going to rely on his location and his changeup and breaking balls," Redmond said. "He's one of those guys who has to move the ball in and out, and change speeds to be successful. I think he can do that. I hope, as we get down farther in this thing, he will settle in and be a good starter for us."

LeBlanc is out of options, so he has to make the Opening Day roster or he could be moving on to another organization. That doesn't appear to be the case.

In the first inning on Monday, the elements and the long ball hurt LeBlanc. With one out, he gave up a double to Torii Hunter, who scored on Miguel Cabrera's ground-rule double.

The extremely windy conditions played a factor on Cabrera's hit, which off the bat appeared to be a routine fly ball to right field. But the wind carried the ball deep and towards the line. It bounced in fair territory, and out of play for an RBI double.

"Good hitters, they're like good shooters in basketball, LeBlanc said. "They get the rolls sometimes."

Jhonny Peralta provided the big blow of the inning, a two-run homer.

"He was working slow out there -- his pace," Redmond said. "When guys got on base, it really slowed him down. It looked like he and [catcher] Rob Brantly had a tough time getting on the same page.

"You're facing a good lineup, too. You see when the ball gets up in the zone, those guys make you pay for your mistakes."

Between innings, LeBlanc made a mechanical adjustment, and he responded with a perfect second inning, with two strikeouts.

"I was kind of out of whack mechanically in that first inning, and I kind of settled back in from there on," the left-hander said. "The last two innings felt more normal -- more midseason."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.