GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Sam LeCure walks into the clubhouse with a watch cap pulled around his ears, wearing a plaid shirt and a full beard and one wonders, “Where did you leave your ax, Mr. Lumberjack?”
If he walked into Starbucks nobody would guess that he is an integral part of the Cincinnati Reds, a spare part that manager Dusty Baker can plug into any situation.
It is an anonymous job, a dirty job, a job that few major-league players covet. But there are few like the 28-year-old right-hander from Jefferson City, Mo.
LeCure’s job description needs two pages — spot starter, long relief, middle relief, short relief, one-batter situational relief and, if Baker asked, he’d run the manager’s laundry to the dry cleaner.
LeCure began his baseball life as a starting pitcher and for a long time kept a grip on thoughts that some day he might be in the rotation. No more. Now he is comfortable sitting in the bullpen waiting for the phone to ring and his name to be called.
Asked about LeCure’s importance, Baker says, “Uh, wow. Yeah. Sam is like my utility pitcher. He can start, he can go long, he can go short relief, he can get you out of trouble, like he has done many times. He knows how to pitch.
“He has a great attitude,” Baker added. “He loves to compete and he is not scared or intimidated by anybody or any situation that I might call upon him to do.”
LeCure was 3-3 with a 3.14 earned run average in 48 appearances and 57 1/3 innings last year, but as Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Numbers don’t begin to explain LeCure, just as his Yosemite Sam looks don’t explain him.
LeCure spent the winter working out in Cincinnati with the training staff rather than return to his Austin, Texas, home and said, “I didn’t want to move back. It gets so tiresome moving around.”
But it isn’t tiresome for him to move around in different bullpen roles.
“Well, my living arrangements are a lot like my bullpen role, ever-evolving,” he said. “And I’m ready to do the same role.
“I’ve really taken to the bullpen after being very stubborn about wanting to be a starter,” he added. “That was more that I believed that I could be a starter and not that I didn’t want to be in the bullpen.”
Now it is his calling — or he awaits a call in any situation.
“Being down in the bullpen and experiencing the camaraderie with the other guys is a fun thing to do every day,” he said. “Having a chance to pitch every day, even if you’ve thrown two days in a row, you’re still ready to go a third day. That’s the exciting part of it for me. I like the opportunity to be out there every day.”
In these days of baseball specialization — long men, short men, set-up, closer — LeCure is an anomaly and he loves it.
“People are comfortable knowing they are the seventh-inning guy, the eighth-inning guy or the ninth-inning guy, all specialists,” he said. “I like the fact that I’m moving all over. It means I can do a lot of things and potentially more opportunities that come up in a game for me to pitch.”
As far as the rest of the bullpen, there are questions. Will Aroldis Chapman be the closer or a starter? And if Chapman is a starter, is Jonathan Broxton the closer? Sean Marshall will be the set-up guy, but who else will be sitting in the bullpen with LeCure marking time until they are called.
“There are questions marks, we know that,” said LeCure. “No. 1 is who is going to be the closer and what will happen with Chappie. That stuff will play itself out and I’m not worried about it. Chappie will do fine wherever he lands. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t change my situation. I still have something to prove and I’m going to earn myself some more appearances.”
LeCure realizes attention usually doesn’t come his way for a job well done when he pitches a scoreless inning or two in the middle of a winning game. The media only gathers around his locker when he has a rare bad day.
“That’s true and that’s OK,” he said. “That’s accountability. With as much money that is involved in the game, people want results and they want answers if things don’t happen they way they want them to happen. It is an anonymous role and that’s OK, too.
“I’m not out there looking for fame,” he added. “I enjoy playing this game and have my whole life. I feel very fortunate to be able to do it and that’s why I’ll never complain about what role I’m in. There are a lot of people around the world who have it a lot, lot worse. It’s a unique job and I’ll never complain and I know they appreciate how I do my job. I take it seriously and I have a ton of fun with it.”
LeCure envisions his team returning to the postseason and envisions his team doing better. And he is prepared.
“My attitude it that if it comes down to me, I’m not going to fail,” he said. “If the season is on the line, if the playoffs are on the line, if the World Series is on the line, I’m not going to let us down.”
If it does come down to that, LeCure is one guy Baker won’t be afraid to send to the mound, no matter how dire the situation or important the situation.