Tuesday night represented a new beginning for the Chattanooga Lookouts, and possibly a new beginning for pitcher Brent Leach as well.
Leach, who made 38 relief appearances last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers but has backtracked since, struck out six in five scoreless innings as the Lookouts dumped Birmingham 5-1 at AT&T Field. It was the Southern League second-half opener for both teams.
"I've been to the top of the mountain, and now I'm just wanting to get back," Leach said. "It's not going to be easy, because this game humbles you quick. I've been humbled, and I'm hungry."
The 27-year-old left-hander opened last season in Chattanooga and was promoted within the first month to Los Angeles after going 0-1 with an 0.69 earned run average in nine games. He went 2-0 with a 5.75 ERA with the Dodgers before getting sent down July 30 to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Leach began this season in Albuquerque and went 3-2 with a 6.62 ERA in 21 games before returning to the Lookouts on June 9. His final three appearances in Triple-A were starts, but they resulted in an 0-1 record and an 11.74 ERA.
His first start with the Lookouts was last Wednesday in West Tenn, where he suffered a six-run third inning and was saddled with a 20.25 ERA.
"It's one of these things where I'm trying to move into a new role and see whether I can handle it or not," Leach said. "The third inning has been that little barrier between the bullpen and a start, and tonight was one of those things where I went out in the third inning and was a little more focused."
Leach had no trouble in the third, retiring the Barons in order, and he needed just 17 batters to record his 15 outs.
"The main thing we want to do with him is get his stamina up to see where they want to use him," Lookouts pitching coach Danny Darwin said. "He's having to learn how to pace himself now and going out there more than just once or twice."
Chattanooga won for the 12th time in its last 16 games. The Lookouts continued to pound out the hits, collecting 11 as Dee Gordon, Trayvon Robinson and Corey Smith had two apiece.
Robinson drove in two runs with a seventh-inning single up the middle that made it 5-0.
"It's a fresh start, even though we finished the first half strong," Robinson said. "We want to keep motoring, because we certainly feel as hot as anyone right now."
The Lookouts took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Smith singled to right field, advanced to third on Eddy Perez's single to right and scored when Scott Van Slyke hit into a double play. They made it 2-0 in the fifth when Gordon's two-out infield hit scored Mike Rivera.
Kyle Russell's double to left in the third inning scored Robinson to make it 3-0.
Mario Alvarez (4-3, 4.56 ERA) is the Lookouts' scheduled starting pitcher for tonight's 7:15 game, with Justin Edwards (1-4, 5.68) scheduled for the Barons.