Leake, who was given a $2.3 million signing bonus, came to the Reds fully formed, with "four major league pitches," says Bane, and command that Callis says major league talent evaluators rated as the best in last year's draft class. But Leake's biggest strength may be his knack for making adjustments during games; in the first inning against Chicago, he danced unscathed out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam. "He's always had that ability," says his brother, who recalls a conference matchup against Stanford during Mike's freshman year when he allowed four runs in the first two innings, then shut out the Cardinal the rest of the way. After the game, Ryan asked what happened early on. "Mike said he couldn't retire any lefthanded hitters, so he decided to start throwing a cutter," says Ryan. "I asked him if he had been working on a cutter. He said no, he just sort of grabbed it in the third inning, tried it out, and it started cutting."
The biggest concern will be how Leake is handled by Reds manager Dusty Baker, who has a reputation for overworking young pitchers. (The former Cubs skipper is often blamed for ruining the careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.) But the Reds—from Baker to Price to Jocketty—all insist they will be cautious. "If you want to manage innings, you have to keep kids from pitching after September 1," says Price. "That's where the innings go from 160, 175, where everyone's comfortable, to closer to 200. When we get to September, we'll evaluate where his innings are and make the big decisions then."
How the Mike Leake Experiment turns out may determine whether, as Jocketty says, "there might be more players pushed faster after this." He says, "This is one way to bolster your club more cost-effectively. Sometimes it's better to give a kid like Mike Leake an opportunity rather than spend two or three million dollars on a veteran you're not sure what you're going to get out of."
Says Bane, "It's refreshing to see Cincinnati give a chance to a young guy. I think it's a great idea—look what [then 20-year-old] Rick Porcello did for Detroit last year. You don't see this happening a lot because it's hard enough to find pitchers that have the stuff. But Mike Leake has the stuff. There's no question Stephen Strasburg has the stuff. So why not pull the trigger?"
Rizzo, despite pressure from the fans, is not ready to: "There's no timetable, there's no calendar. We're just going to watch Stephen's progress. We want him to stay up here once he comes up—whether that's next week, next month or next year, we just don't know."
The Strasburg world premiere has to wait. For now, the stage belongs to Mike Leake.
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Tom Verducci looks at efforts to get more young black players in the game at SI.com/baseball