Chris Carpenter, Matt Cain and now Zack Greinke -- three ace-level pitchers all pitched like aces when matched up against LeCure.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
Again, LeCure delivered a solid start for the Reds on Sunday. But for the third time in a row, he was bested by an elite pitcher. Greinke pitched a complete game for the Royals, striking out 12 as the Reds lost, 7-3, at Great American Ball Park to lose two of three in the series.
"I view it as a good challenge to me because I plan on playing this game for a long time," LeCure said. "In order to be considered a legitimate pitcher, you've gotta go out and beat those guys and prove that you can."
In his fourth career big league start, LeCure delivered his longest outing, throwing 120 pitches in 6 2/3 innings and allowing four runs and six hits with three walks and four strikeouts. But that wasn't enough to get the best of Greinke, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
It was just the third time all season the Royals have given Greinke (2-8, 3.94 ERA) more than four runs of support, and aside from two Joey Votto home runs, the Reds struggled to put anything together against an ace with misleading numbers.
"He struck out 12 of us, and you see why he was a Cy Young [winner]," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "And he wasn't probably as sharp as he could be. You're always a little nervous and apprehensive when a guy of that quality is 1-8 because you figure the law of averages is on his side."
LeCure (1-3, 3.75) has lost three starts in a row in place of Homer Bailey, but it's not as if he has had trouble on the mound. The four runs were the most he has given up in four starts. He simply has been on the wrong end of some tough matchups, which include an eight-inning, one-run performance by the Cardinals' Carpenter and a complete-game shutout by the Giants' Cain.
But LeCure sees the three losses and is not satisfied with his pitching.
"My definition of doing my job is when I come out of the game we're tied or we're ahead," LeCure said. "It's always been that way ever since I remember pitching. So as far as that goes, no, I don't feel like I've done my job to my ability, and I expect better of myself. And I expect the next time out, I'll be better than I was today, and after that I expect to be better again.
"I need to go out there and match their guy pitch for pitch. I don't care if it's 5-5 or 0-0, as long as we're tied or ahead I'm good with it."
The Reds were at a disadvantage heading into the game with the absence of two key infielders. Second baseman Brandon Phillips was a late scratch from the lineup because of leg soreness dating to a right hamstring cramp in the May 27 game against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Sunday was a scheduled day off for third baseman Scott Rolen.
Greinke allowed a solo homer to Votto in the first and another solo shot to him in the ninth, but the rest of the shorthanded Reds lineup couldn't solve him. And for Greinke, pitching with the benefit of run support didn't hurt.
"That's always really nice," Greinke said. "One or two doesn't really do much but, at the end, when it's four or five runs, it makes it a lot easier to pitch."
Six of the Royals' seven runs came with two outs, and LeCure had difficulty with the heart of the Kansas City order. Royals center fielder David DeJesus reached base all five times with a home run, single, double and two walks. First baseman Billy Butler went 4-for-5, including a crucial two-run homer in the fifth to give Kansas City a 3-2 lead.
A few key pitches here and there proved to be the difference, and although Baker said he thought LeCure "threw a real good game," LeCure was a bit more critical of himself.
"It's really frustrating because I feel like I'm a command guy," LeCure said. "I'm not missing by much, but at the same time I'm not being aggressive enough early in the count. I get tired of hearing myself say it, but it's the case. I enjoy going out there and matching up against the top-of-the-line guys."
Matt Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.