|Luke Leftwich, image- Jay Floyd
Leftwich entered last year with a 3.18 ERA in four professional seasons including a solid campaign with Double-A Reading in 2018 in which he posted a 3-4 record with three saves, a 3.73 ERA and a .234 batting average against. It was a scorching hot start with Reading in 2019 that opened plenty of eyes for the talented reliever. He tallied a 2-0 record with a 1.02 ERA, a .073 batting average against and a 14.3 K/9 mark in 12 total relief appearances with the Fightin Phils. His remarkable efforts against Eastern League competition earned him a promotion.
With Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Leftwich, who was the Phillies' 7th round draft selection out of Wofford College in 2015, appeared to experience difficulties on the mound from the start. In 16 total appearances there, the six-foot-three 205-pounder sported a 0-1 record with an 8.28 ERA. Fans, media members, those within the organization and Leftwich himself took notice and most would wonder if he could really handle competition at the highest levels of the sport.
The struggles at Triple-A caught nearly as much attention as the immense success Leftwich had at the Double-A level, but the 25-year-old got it all figured.
As Leftwich tells it, he was tipping his pitches and every other team knew it. He points out that the inability to get outs upon his arrival at the Triple-A level left him feeling down and defeated. The keen eye of roving outfield coach Andy Abad had the remedy.
"(He) told me that I had been tipping pitches for the past month or so and that was a complete eye opener for me because I had no idea," Leftwich stated.
"Once I figured that out, it gave me a confidence boost of like, 'I'm not as bad as I look right now. I just need to fix this one thing and then I'm good again.' And as soon as I fixed that I went on a little roll there for a few weeks, threw really well."
Once Abad took time to review video with Leftwich and offered insight on what do stop doing and what actions to implement instead, the statistics saw considerable improvement.
Through his first eight appearances with the IronPigs, Leftwich notched a 15.75 ERA. After the huddle with Abad, in his next eight outings Leftwich recorded a 1.38 ERA.
His season then took another downturn as shoulder discomfort set in and Leftwich was placed on the injured list for approximately a month as a result of bicep tendinitis. He'd ramp things up in late July for a few more games, but the pain reemerged and more time on the shelf was to come.
"With only like a month left in the season, they didn't take any chances with anything major happening, making sure I didn't have to get surgery or anything like that," Leftwich explained. "So, I went to see a doctor to check it out. (I was diagnosed with a) shoulder impingement, no structural damage. Just inflammation getting in the way of things moving the right way."
Leftwich is behind in his throwing program compared to where he might normally be at this point in the pre-season. Delayed start to his exhibition season aside, the excitement level is still at a high degree for Leftwich, as many of his friends and teammates have been invited to big league camp this year.
"Since I'm not going to be playing, it gives me an opportunity to go watch those guys and get to see my close friends basically pitch in the big league games," Leftwich said. "That's exciting for me. That's exciting for all of us."
It's fair to expect Leftwich, whose father Phil Leftwich and grandfather Tom Timmermann both pitched in the Major Leagues, to get another go at Triple-A this year. Should he reach the big leagues, he'll be just the second third-generation pitcher in MLB history. The Phillies hope he'll take strides toward making that happen this year.
Always an optimist, Leftwich took plenty of positives from his 2019 campaign despite the considerable ups and downs.
"The improvements that I made and the mentality shift more than anything, I really knew those last few weeks that I was good enough, confident enough, every bit deserving to be there and get hitters out."
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