Jose De Leon’s Successful Major League Debut Warrants Spot In Dodgers Rotation
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After calling up their top pitching prospect to make his Major League debut earlier in the year, the Los Angeles Dodgers did so a second time. Julio Urias pitched well enough to remain in the Majors and exhausted his prospect eligibility, so Jose De Leon took over as the club’s best Minor-League arm.

While Urias’ debut could be best described as a learning experience, De Leon overcame some turbulence to put together a memorable six-inning start. It began to appear as though his arrival would not come until next season.

However, after Bud Norris was hit hard in his last start, the Dodgers’ front office decided it was time to give De Leon an opportunity. After all, he had gone three starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City without allowing a walk while striking out 33 batters.

The early game jitters were evident Sunday. De Leon missed low on three consecutive fastballs, his eyes as wide as saucers.

But he settled in and it only took him two batters to record his first Major-League strikeout, getting Wil Myers to chase a fastball.

Then, a popup down the third-base line fell in for a single and De Leon grazed a batter to give the San Diego Padres a free baserunner. That’s when the wheels could have come off, but the young right-hander battled back and struck out Ryan Schimpf to end the threat.

As his adrenaline waned, so did De Leon’s velocity. He sat in the low-to-mid 90s in the first inning but settled in around 89-91 mph as the game progressed. The fastball featured some run and he generally did a good job of locating, especially down in the zone.

Austin Barnes, who’d caught De Leon in the Minors, did a great job of converting borderline fastballs at the bottom of the zone into strikes. De Leon also showed a curveball in the mid 70s and his changeup, though he didn’t throw it much early on.

After an uneventful second inning, trouble came for De Leon in the third. A bunt by Travis Jankowski was initially ruled an out before replay review overturned the call. One out later, Yangervis Solarte crushed a first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer.

The pitch simply caught too much of the plate. That was one of the few hard-hit balls that De Leon surrendered. He ran into trouble in the fifth and, once again, it was initiated by Jankowski.

Another bunt, with a runner on second, was fielded by De Leon but his poor throw deflected off Jankowski (who was running inside the line) and went down the line. Alexi Amarista scored from second base on the play.

A single from Myers was followed by a sacrifice fly from Solarte, accounting for the Padres’ fourth run. De Leon’s final inning was outstanding, as he finally began using his changeup liberally and struck out the side.

He finished with nine strikeouts, the second-most by a rookie in his debut in Los Angeles franchise history. De Leon became just the fifth pitcher with nine strikeouts and zero walks in his debut since 1913.

And, as Positive Residual noted on Twitter, De Leon saved his changeup for the third time through the order. It’s not clear what prevented him from using what can be his best pitch until the fifth or sixth inning.

The curveball looked solid but it was clearly his third-best pitch. Going forward, De Leon should lean heavily on the fastball and changeup.

Overall, while there were some issues, the fact that they were major events that led to the Padres scoring is a net positive, since they’re easily correctable: don’t groove pitches to aggressive hitters, throw accurately to first base, etc.

Now, if De Leon was walking batters left and right or consistently giving up hard contact, that wouldn’t bode as well. But he deserves another start and should continue to pick up strikeouts in bunches.

You can listen to Jared on the weekly Dugout Blues Podcast