A year ago, Hall-Dale graduate Ryan Leach was basking in the glow of a no-hitter, a nine-inning gem in which he led his Franklin Pierce University team past Northeast-10 Conference opponent Adelphi.
Three weeks ago, Adelphi sent Leach packing after one inning and four runs. It was the culmination of a rough start to the season for the junior right-hander, who saw his record drop to 0-3. Franklin Pierce coach Jayson King moved Leach to the bullpen after that and he’s since regained his form.
“He’s had some tough outings but he’s had some good outings as well,” King said.
Leach picked up his first win of the season March 30 when he pitched three innings of hitless relief against UMass-Lowell and struck out six. Three days later, he pitched three more scoreless innings out of the bullpen and picked up win No. 2 against St. Anselm. Saturday, Leach got a spot start against New Haven, pitching 52⁄3 innings to even his record at 3-3.
“He likes throwing out of the bullpen, but he’s willing to do whatever we ask of him,” King said.
Leach started 12 games last season and cooled off after a hot beginning. He finished at 6-4 with 3.59 earned run average. He was second on the team in innings pitched with 722⁄3, but starting games is not a priority for him.
“I think I’m going to be an out-of-the-pen guy,” Leach said. “I like it a lot more. I’m way more comfortable with it. It’s the heat of the moment. You can hit the switch and get mentally focused. When you’re starting, you think about it all day.”
Leach gained experience out of the bullpen last summer pitching for the Florence (S.C.) RedWolves of the Coastal Plain League. He pitched 25 innings as a setup man, striking out 28. He’s maintained his strikeout ratio this season, fanning 36 in 30 innings. His fastball has been recorded as high as 92 mph this year, but his best pitch is his slider. Ironically, that’s the one that got him in trouble early this season when he struggled with his command.
“It was just breaking off a little too much,” he said. “It’s starting to get consistent now.”
Leach said pitching in the Coastal Plain League helped a lot. He was on his own and developed a good routine. Coming out of the bullpen also helped him learn to throw every pitch in every count. As a starter, he often focused on establishing his fastball before breaking out his changeup and slider.
This summer, Leach hopes to play in the Cape Cod League. He’s already signed a temporary contract with Chatham and will gain a roster spot if someone drops out. Last year, 11 players under full contract with the team left before the season began. Whether anyone leaves or not, Leach hopes to stick with the team after they get a closer look at him.
“My plan is to go there and earn a spot,” he said.
King would like Leach to be “the guy who takes over the pitching staff” next season and Leach thinks he’ll be ready. He’ll likely be a starter again on a team that’s currently loaded with strong pitching.
“Right now I’m probably the fifth or sixth guy,” he said.
The Ravens are 22-9 overall, 12-0 in the Northeast-10, and ranked 20th among Division II teams in the country. Leach said he’s made significant progress, both physically and mentally since arriving on campus in Rindge, N.H.
“I’ve progressed so much since I’ve been here,” he said. “Developing confidence has been big for me.”
A sports and recreation management major, Leach maintains a 3.0 grade point average.
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638