March 29, 2005
Matt Leva enjoys the freshness each start brings, just to relax and take his time getting ready for the start. He enjoys the idea of beginning something that's still in its perfect form when he goes to the mound and taking ownership it. He admits to treasuring the period of time prior to a start when he can just 'move slow' and at his own pace.
'I just basically do anything I can to relax before the game,' said Leva about his pre-game strategy.
After appearing out of the bullpen in each of his first six outings this season, the sophomore right-hander finally got to experience that feeling when he made his first start last Thursday versus Pacific. Leva made the most of it, holding the Tigers to just one run and three hits with a career-high-tying six strikeouts over a season-high 6.1 innings.
'The mid-week games are great for our staff,' commented Leva. 'They really give you an opportunity to show what you have. They were a big part of my success last year.'
Leva's success last year was a 6-2 record and a 4.29 ERA in 14 appearances and seven starts.
He started to turn heads just about this time a year ago when he made the first start of his career in a mid-week game at San Jose State on March 30, 2004. Leva was credited with the victory in that contest when he and four other Stanford pitchers in a predetermined rotation combined to shutout the Spartans.
Leva had another impressive mid-week against San Jose State about a month later and, with the Cardinal still struggling to find a third starter towards the end of the regular season, found himself in the role about two weeks later when he made his first weekend series start of the season at Arizona more than halfway though the Pac-10 schedule.
He may not have been spectacular in three Pac-10 starts but showed enough promise to earn a start in an NCAA Regional elimination game versus St. John's, where he responded with a complete game performance to lead the Cardinal to a 7-2 victory.
With that outing under his belt, Leva looked to have the inside track to hold on to his spot in the rotation this season.
He headed to the Kenai Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League full of confidence and looking to refine his mechanics.
'I view the summer as an instructional period for me,' confirmed Leva, who was a respectable 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA during the summer of 2004.
But when he was throwing one day after a start last July, he felt pain in his arm. He threw again, and again felt pain.
When he came back to Stanford in the fall, Leva ended up spending most of his time trying to figure out what was causing the pain instead of pitching during fall practice sessions with the Cardinal.
It ended up being kind of a mystery injury.
He had a few different diagnosis from several different doctors but is still not exactly sure what it was. But, whatever it was caused him miss crucial pitching time and slide back down the pecking order of a talented Stanford staff.
After basically not pitching from mid-July through the end of the first quarter, the pain subsided and Leva began throwing again over the Christmas holidays. By the time he was back in full swing, he had some ground to make up and would have to do it from the Cardinal bullpen.
Leva was impressive in his first three relief outings this season, not allowing a run in 8.1 innings of work. Despite a couple of less impressive performances after that, he earned him a chance to show his stuff against Pacific last Thursday.
He hopes his stellar performance against the Tigers is the first step in regaining that coveted spot in the Stanford rotation that he earned late last season.
'Coming into my freshman year at Stanford, that's what I wanted to do,' said Leva about being in the team's rotation.
With the Cardinal still searching for a third starter this season and the Pac-10 season knocking on his door, a couple of more nice mid-week starts might just make his wish come true and give him another fresh start.
by Kyle McRae
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