SEATTLE — Which pitcher has the longest scoreless innings streak in baseball?
Clayton Kershaw? Jake Arrieta? Madison Bumgarner? Try Wade LeBlanc.
The improbable and obscure owner of that distinction takes the mound for the Seattle Mariners on Friday night as the 31-year-old left-hander brings a 23 2/3-innings scoreless streak into his start against the Baltimore Orioles.
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LeBlanc's scoreless streak, which only applies to major league games, extends all the way back to Sept. 2, 2014, when he was pitching out of the Los Angeles Angels' bullpen. He finished off that season with seven consecutive scoreless outings — five as a reliever — and spent the 2015 season pitching in Japan.
He was in the Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system this year when the pitching-desperate Mariners acquired him to start a game June 24. LeBlanc took the mound two days after being dealt from Toronto and threw six scoreless innings to help the Mariners snap a six-game losing streak in what was originally expected to be a spot start.
LeBlanc used an 88-mile-per-hour fastball, drawing numerous comparisons to former Mariners star Jamie Moyer, to help beat the St. Louis Cardinals and the Mariners are curious to see if he can continue to grind out more zeroes.
Baltimore's offense was on a tear in June with a major league record 56 home runs, but the Orioles (47-40) couldn't get much going against Seattle's Taijuan Walker in Thursday's series opener.
After that game, which saw Baltimore's seven-game winning streak come to an end, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was able to see the bright side.
“Three winning months, and that's the kind of consistency we'll have to have” to stay atop the American League East, Showalter said after Baltimore finished June 19-9. “… We're going to have to continue to do that to stay where we are.”
Seattle's month went much worse as the Mariners fell from the top of the American League West to third place with a 10-18 record in June. The series-opening win over the Orioles had Seattle feeling optimistic as the Mariners head into Friday night's game.
“We needed a win,” closer Steve Cishek said after getting the final four outs to earn his 19th save of the season Thursday. “It's almost the All-Star Break, and we're trying to get something going before the break.”
The Mariners are hoping that LeBlanc can keep the momentum going, while Baltimore hands the ball to Kevin Gausman (1-5, 3.93 ERA). The 25-year-old right-hander is coming off his best start of the season, having thrown 7 2/3 shutout innings to beat Tampa Bay and earn his first victory of 2016.
The Orioles have lost three of four games played against Seattle (40-39) this season. They still hold a five-game lead over the Boston Red Sox, who open a three-game series versus the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.