Leroux in Marlins Bullpen to Stay?

The first question Chris Leroux was asked was about facing Roy Halladay. It was an obvious query, because the recently-recalled Florida Marlins reliever grew up admiring Halladay?s excellence. Secondly, his mom Marian asked him to obtain an autograph of the former Blue Jays Cy Young award winner. ?Everyone is so excited I got to face Halladay,? said Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.)  from Houston where the Marlins played faced the Astros April 21.?He?s a great pitcher, not a good hitter. He?s not Barry Bonds.?

Leroux came on in relief last Friday with two men on in the seventh before 45,245 fans at Citizen?s Bank Park. He retired Carlos Ruiz on a line drive to left and then faced Halladay ... ?seeing him step into the batter?s box was cool.? Leroux struck out Halladay on a 2-2 pitch and retired Shane Victorino on a fly ball to centre.  Next in the eighth, he retired Placido Polanco on a weak grounder, walked Chase Utley and then got Ryan Howard on a double play ball. What Phillies hitter did Marlins catchers and pitching coach tell Leroux was the one to worry about most? in pre-series meetings?

?They warned me about Halladay -- just kidding,? Leroux said jokingly, displaying his fine Mississauga sense of humor. ?They said if you?re going to come in, come inside, don?t leave the ball over the plate. I wound up walking Utley on five pitches, couldn?t throw a strike, no idea why.? Leroux made his major-league debut May 26, 2009 when the Marlins had a overworked bullpen. He appeared in five games and had 38 days in the majors. This time the Marlins went with youth releasing Jose Veres and promoting Leroux, 25, from triple-A New Orleans which played in Albuquerque, N.M. He sat in the bullpen watching a game unfold.

?It was weird, we?re winning 3-1 in the eighth, normally my time to pitch, I thought something was fishy they didn?t use me,? Leroux said. After the game hitting coach Greg Norton told Leroux to pack for Miami. Leroux worked an inning in a 10-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) April 15 in his debut this year. ?After the game I was getting in my car and Votto was headed for the bus when he came over,? Leroux said. ?He was worried if I had a place to stay, asking big-brother questions.?

Leroux, a former Mississauga North Tiger, and Votto have known each other since attending workouts in 2000 at Bob Symth?s indoor facility as 15-year-olds. Back then, both were catchers. ?It?s good to have guys to talk to, I saw Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) and Jason Bay (Trail, BC) in spring training,? Leroux. ?I don?t know what?s going to happen (staying), but I?m pitching better than last year. I?m not going to hold my breath, we?ll see what happens.? The Team Ontario grad has allowed one run in five innings. He worked scoreless innings in the April 21 5-4 loss to Houston, the next night a 5-1 win against Houston and an 8-4 loss to Colorado Rockies. In six innings he has a 1.50 ERA allowing one run on one hit and two walks, while fnning five.

?He?s the best Canadian pitcher we?ve had since ... Chris Leroux 2009,? said bench coach Carlos Tosca, the former Blue Jays manager. Marian and Kieth Leroux, haven?t seen their son pitch this season. They missed his major-league debut to make son Tim?s graduation from med school, but saw Chris pitch last June against the Washington Nationals.  ?They may come to Chicago,? Leroux said. ?they know the drill. I might not be here for long.? Leroux has been hanging with relievers Burke Badenhop and Tim Wood, but admits it?s not easy joining a team once the season is underway.

?I go out to a restaurant and it?s like ?hey Chris c?om over here, sit with us,?? Leroux said. Mom?s request ?the only time mom ever for anything,? an autographed ball from Halladay? Leroux sent the request to the Phillies clubhouse with an attendant and the ball came back signed. ?I?m sure mom is going to love it,? Leroux said. ?I?m not sure where she?s going to put it.?

Bob ElliottComment