Aspiring starter Leroux gets start

* RHP Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) will start against Mexico in Game 2 of the WBC. ....  Day III with Team Canada Day II with Team Canada Day I with Team Canada

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By Bob Elliott

GOODYEAR, Az. _ Player agent Fred Wray tried to invoke the 24-hour rule with his client.

Chris Leroux would hear nothing of it.

Baseball’s 24-hour rule can be found from the sandlots to the big leagues.

The reasoning is: never make a phone call to complain when angry ... call the next day.

Leroux phoned Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington anyway in early July after he had been activated from the disabled list and sent to triple-A Indianapolis.

Then he went out and did what he said he could do: had success as a starter.

Leroux starts for Team Canada Saturday against Mexico, after Shawn Hill opens the third World Baseball Classic Friday afternoon against Italy.

“Chris had been pretty open in talks about him wanting to start, he was respectful,” Huntington said recently, sitting in the seats in Bradenton after his Pirates had beaten the Atlanta Braves.

“We wanted Chris to concentrate on getting three outs in one inning before worrying about 21 outs over seven,” said Huntington.

Like every other GM, Huntington has received a lot of calls over the years from demoted players:

“Give me a chance, I can play,” an infielder will say.

“How am I supposed to get over .200 when I’m not in the lineup? I’ll show you,” an outfielder will ask, forgetting the reason he’s not playing is his .198 average.

Leroux wanted the chance to start, asked for it and he impressed.

“Chris had had continued interest about him being used as a starter,” Huntington said. “To his credit he put up some pretty good numbers.”

Leroux made his first start for Indianapolis on July 26 against Pawtucket and made six more. He went 4-0 with an ERA of 3.00, walking eight and striking out 38 in 42 innings.

“I asked for the opportunity, it arose after we traded a guy and I went into the rotation,” said Leroux  in Bradenton. “I don’t consider myself a major league starter yet, because I haven’t done it in the big leagues.

“You never are sure until you have done it in the big leagues.”

Leroux flies into Phoenix Wednesday night as the Pirates and Team Canada agreed.

“They’ve done a good job in camp combining my throwing schedule with Team Canada’s,” said Leroux.

These are the best three starters Canada has in Hill (44 major-league career starts, his last in 2010); Leroux (19 starts in the minors with the Florida Marlins and the Pirates organizations) and third-game starter Jameson Taillon (49 in the Pirates system).

Canadian starters Ryan Dempster, Scott Diamond, Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard and Scott Richmond are all either injured, fighting for a job or not interested in pitching.

Leroux was originally drafted as a catcher from Jason Chee-Aloy’s Team Ontario in the seventh round in 2002, part of Canada’s best draft class ever (Adam Loewen, Jeff Francis, Joey Votto, Jesse Crain, Scott Mathieson, Russell Martin, George Kottaras and Leroux all made the majors.)

Leroux attended Winthrop University and was a reliever when the Marlins chose him in the ninth round three years later.

Two yeas ago Leroux said he was the last cut, Last year he suffered a right pectoral strain. This season he will likely head north as a member of the Pirates bullpen.

Former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett, James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke and Jeff Karstens make up manager Clint Hurdle’s starting rotation.

“Chris has a heck of a desire to make it as a starter, maybe he grows into a starter,” said Huntington.

Not everyone who has success in the minors can carry it over to the majors.

Yet those final seven starts were a good building block for the former Mississauga North Tiger.

Toss away Leroux’s first relief outing (three runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers) and Leroux pitched 10 innings with a 3.60 ERA, walking one and striking out 11 in 10 innings.

Also in Bradenton was Italia Jason Grilli, who flew Tampa-Phoenix on Sunday.

Grilli’s departure meant for some peaceful days for Leroux, since he had been teasing the Canadian about the 2009 outcome where Italy eliminated Canada with a 6-2 win at the Rogers Centre.

“Grilli always says ‘I guess you guys must be preparing like crazy, because you don’t want to lose to Italy again,’” said Leroux.

Hill faces Italy and then Leroux, who has pitched in 81 games in the majors, goes against Mexico, which features the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Jorge Cantu, Gil Velazquez and Karim Garcia.

Mexico may have a better coaching staff than its roster -- Fernando Valenzuela, Teddy Higuera, Juan Castro, Sid Monge and Ruben Amaro, father of the Philadelphia Phillies manager, by the same name.

It will be up to Leroux to start the string of zeros.