Tigers hopes to take Mariners’ LeBancc for ride

Inspiration sometimes comes from the strangest places. And when you least expect it.

Seattle Mariners left-hander Wade LeBlanc still smiles when he tells the story of the Boston cabbie who helped save his career.

It was in June of 2011 when LeBlanc, then with San Diego, got hit so hard in a start against the Boston Red Sox that he was demoted to Triple-A. When he was picked up at Fenway Park the next morning, the cabdriver noticed LeBlanc’s Padres bag.

“What’s your name,” the cabbie asked LeBlanc.

After LeBlanc answered, the driver said, “Oh, you pitched last night. Me and a bunch of my buddies watched the game. You’ve got some good stuff.”

“And that was the furthest thing I expected to hear after getting beat around for what seemed like the 50th time,” LeBlanc told The Athletic.

The cabbie continued: “I think there’s some things you should think about trying, some things that might make a difference. I don’t know, I’m not a player. Maybe something like going over your head in your windup.”

When LeBlanc got to Tucson, he decided to try it.

“In my next start, I allowed something like one run over seven innings and didn’t have any walks,” LeBlanc said. “I still do it today. And so here we are now.”

Sunday afternoon, LeBlanc (0-0, 2.51 ERA) is scheduled to face Detroit left-hander Francisco Liriano (3-1, 4.03) in the finale of the four-game series. LeBlanc is 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA in two career appearances against the Tigers; Liriano is 6-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 14 games against the Mariners.

In three starts since being inserted into the Mariners’ rotation, LeBlanc has allowed just one earned run in 15 innings.

Not bad for a 33-year-old who has been designated for assignment seven times in his career, has pitched for seven organizations and even spent a season in Japan.

“You see a lot of guys who have nice careers that don’t pop off the chart in terms of their raw stuff, but they get outs,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “If you can throw strikes, and you can disrupt the timing of the hitters, you’ve probably got a good chance to survive a while.”

Liriano, 34, is another survivor, pitching for his sixth team in 13 seasons. The native of the Dominican Republic still features one of the best sliders in the game.

“He’s so deceptive, as a hitter you don’t know where the ball is going to come from,” Tigers catcher John Hicks told The Detroit News. “When you don’t see the ball, you are going to guess fastball. And the ball just kind of appears to you – and then it’s a wipeout slider.”

Opponents have hit under .200 off Liriano’s slider every year but one — last year, when they hit .223 as he battled shoulder problems.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire held the same position with the Twins in 2005 when Liriano made his major-league debut.

“He’s got dominating stuff, he really does,” Gardenhire said. “Maybe it’s because of where his arm angle comes from. He has so much deception because of everything he throws at them – his body and the whole package.

“But his slider is nasty. Always has been. It’s a gift.”