Bats' 2010 review: Part IV - Francisco, LeCure and le comeback begins [Sports]

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This is the fourth part in a series that looks back at the remarkable season of the 2010 Louisville Bats.

By Josh Cook

Louisville came into May like a lamb...to the slaughter.

The Bats, who ended April on a seven-game losing streak, fell 1-0 at Buffalo on the first day of month despite a solid start from Sam LeCure. The right-hander gave up only one earned run on six hits while walking one and striking out three in seven inning, however he was out-dueled by Bobby Livingston, who gave up only three hits while walking one and striking out three in eight innings.

Louisville lost the next day too - running its streak to nine in a row - in 10 innings. The Bats actually scored twice in the top of the 10th to lead 4-2 - usually a safe cushion in an extra-inning game, but not in this case.

Adkins blew his second save of the young season. He struck out the first batter he faced before giving up singles to three of the next four he faced. The latter was a two-out, broken-bat single by Mike Hessman that scored one run easily and a second on a close play at the plate. Adkins argued the call and was almost immediately ejected by home plate umpire Fran Burke as the Bats‘ collective frustration came to a head. Right-hander Chad Reineke replaced Adkins and promptly gave up a two-run, walk-off home run to Chris Carter. The left-hander hit a 2-1 slider from Reineke into the right field Party Deck at Coca-Cola Field.

Adkins’ ejection brought Louisville’s early-season frustration to a head, but the next night it came to a boiling point. But in a good way.

The Bats’ bats, which had been mired in a hitting slump to start the season, broke out in a big way the next night against the Bisons. But this was bigger than big...it was huge.

Louisville slugged 24 hits on their way to a 20-7 victory over Buffalo. Aroldis Chapman picked up his second win of the season despite giving up six earned runs, but the Bats had that many runs after three innings. They scored four runs in the third, six in the fifth and five in the sixth. Danny Dorn went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and four runs scored. Veteran catcher Corky Miller had two doubles and a home run to finish with five RBIs. Zack Cozart had a double and a two-run homer. Even Chapman got into the act, going 2-for-2 with an RBI-double and a run scored. The best sign, though, may have been Juan Francisco going 4-for-5 with three doubles, four RBIs and two runs scored.

The big-hitting, free-swinging Francisco had been a big-time prospect for the Reds almost from the moment the Dominican Republic native was signed more than a month before his 17th birthday in 2004 . He had 25 home runs and 90 RBIs in Dayton in 2007 but struck out 161 times. He had 23 and 92 with 123 strikeouts the next year in Sarasota, then hit 27 and 93 in 2009, when he fanned 115 times. He spent the last 22 games of season in Louisville, where he hit .359 with five homers and 19 RBIs but also struck out 24 times. Until Cincinnati acquired veteran Scott Rolen in ‘09, Francisco looked to be the third baseman of the future in the Queen City. He didn’t really hurt himself in Spring Training, either, hitting .292 with two homers and seven RBIs in spite of 14 strikeouts.

“It’s either been tremendous or not very much,” Reds manager Dusty Baker told MLB.com on March 18. “(It’s) all or nothing, depending on if he is swinging at strikes or not.”

Francisco started the season in Cincinnati, but went 1-for-6 in three games. In his last game, his only start, Francisco wore the Golden Sombrero (a.k.a. went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts) in a game against the Chicago Cubs on April 10. The next day he was outrighted to Louisville.

He didn’t seem to take the demotion well. In 15 games in April, Francisco hit a pitiful .115 with only one homer and three RBIs. He also struck out 21 times in 61 at-bats. He started May by going 0-for-3 against the Bisons to lower his average to .109.

The next day Francisco began to break out of his slump. He went 3-for-5 against Buffalo and it was his two-run homer in the top of the 10th that had staked Louisville to its two-run lead.

The night after the Bats’ 20-run, 24-hit explosion Francisco went 2-for-4 but Louisville lost 5-4. His two-run double in the sixth pulled the Bats within 3-2. Then he led off the top of the ninth with a single. He moved to third on Wilkin Castillo’s single, before both of them scored on Todd Frazier’s triple to give Louisville a 4-3 lead. But the Bats’ bullpen couldn’t hang on again as Adkins blew his third save opportunity of the season, and his second in three days.

Louisville returned home the next day to face Rochester and although the Bats lost 8-5 Francisco continued to tear up opposing pitching. He went 3-for-4 with a solo home run and three RBIs.

The Bats showed the home crowd their hefty hitting over their next two days, beating Rochester 16-3 and 16-5. Francisco led the way once again. In the first win he 2-for-4 - he was one of seven Bats with two hits - with two RBIs to give LeCure (7 IP, 3 ER, 7 hits, 1 BB, 7 Ks) plenty of support. In the second victory Francisco went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer and three runs scored. The next day, a Sunday, he went 1-for-3 as the Bats beat the Red Wings 5-2 to give Chapman his third win and raise his batting average for the month to an astounding .531. Those could be Francisco’s final at-bats of the month, though.

The next morning Francisco woke up with a pain in his stomach. The ache began in the middle, but had moved to his right side by the time he arrived at Slugger Field later in the day. He told Bats trainer Tomas Vera of his symptoms and started his preparations for the night’s game.

“Two hours later, while walking to the bathroom, I fell to the ground,” Francisco, through Vera, told The Courier-Journal. “I went to the emergency room and that’s when they did the surgery. I wasn’t scared.”

The Bats won that night, 7-6, then blanked the Bisons 11-0 the next game.

Louisville lost the next game, though, as Adkins blew another save chance and the game. Buffalo rallied for three in the ninth and an 8-7 win. Adkins fell to 0-3 with four blown saves and a 7.62 earned-run average. It was the beginning of a stretch when the Bats bounced back to reality, losing four of their next five games.

But on May 17 LeCure got Louisville back on track. The right-hander, and two relievers (Enerio Del Rosario and Adkins), combined to shutout Rochester 5-0. LeCure allowed eight hits and walked one, while striking out eight in seven innings to improve to 4-2 and lower his ERA to 3.00. More importantly it was the second shutout of the season for the Bats after three pitchers (Matt Maloney, Reineke and Jesus Delgado) combined to blank Buffalo 11-0 on May 11.

Entering the season many had expected Chapman to be the strongest starter for Louisville in what would probably be a brief stay in Triple-A. The Cuban import had been super, but not sensational. Sure he was 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA, but he was struggling with his control. It seemed his number of walks and wild pitches grew each outing.

LeCure, meanwhile, had been just as solid - if not more so - than Chapman. But he had been that way throughout his career.

After being selected, out of college powerhouse Texas, in the fourth round of the 2005 draft LeCure went 5-1 at Billings (Mont.) in the Rookie League. The next year his record (7-12) wasn’t very respectable at Sarasota, but his ERA (3.43) was. In 2007 LeCure went 8-5 with a 4.07 ERA over one start at Sarasota and 21 at Double-A Chattanooga. He finished that season with 112 strikeouts in 115 innings pitched. The next year he went 9-7 with a 3.42 ERA at Chattanooga before going 10-8 with a 4.46 ERA in 25 starts at Louisville in 2009.

His shutout of the Red Wings in mid-May was one of the best efforts by a Bats’ starter on the young season. But his next outing was even better. On May 22 LeCure nearly recorded the first nine-inning no-hitter in Slugger Field. Chad Huffman’s one-out, eighth-inning single was the only hit he allowed while walking two and striking out five in Louisville’s 5-0 win over Scranton/Wilkes Barre. It was LeCure’s second shutout in less than a week and the Bats’ fifth victory in their last sixth games.

Four days later LeCure was called up by the Reds to replace injured starter Homer Bailey. He made his major league debut two days after that against the Astros and got his first big league victory thanks to an ample amount of run support as the Reds routed Houston 15-6. LeCure gave up six hits and two earned runs while walking four and striking out five over six innings. Afterward he got a shaving cream pie in the face on the field before the celebration moved inside.

“They made me sit down in the shower in my uniform,” LeCure told the Associated Press. “They poured beer on me. I got a fair amount of (shampoo) in my eyes. It was pretty cool.”

Also that night, in a kind of passing-of-the-torch moment, Chapman had one of his best outings. He gave up only three hits while walking one and striking out seven over five innings in Louisville’s 6-0 win over Gwinnett. The victory improved the Bats to 22-25, the closest to .500 they had been since April 25, and within 6 ½ games of division-leading Columbus.

However Louisville lost three of its next four games - including, ironically, the first no-hitter in LSF history by Gwinnett’s Todd Redmond on the 28th - before leaving May like a lion with a 16-2 win over the Clippers in the second game of a doubleheader. It was the Bats’ sixth double-digit game of a month in which they posted a 17-13 record. Louisville’s lumber had started to awake from its slumber and the team’s starting pitching, behind LeCure (3-1 in May), Chapman (4-1) and Travis Wood (3-1), had been solid.

Maybe there was hope for these Bats after all.

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