CHICAGO -- Reds manager Dusty Baker was essentially asked to look into a crystal ball that doesn't exist, but his answer about pitcher Mike Leake on Friday was crystal clear.
Baker sees Leake's immediate better days ahead coming as a reliever and not as a starter. The 23-year-old was moved to the bullpen earlier this week to make way for Johnny Cueto's return from the disabled list. Cueto will make his season debut on Sunday against the Cubs. Having Cueto and Homer Bailey back means there is no space for Leake among the starting five.
As for Leake, could he one day find his way back to the rotation?
"It's too far down the line, No. 1," Baker said. "I think he'll be a very good long man. He stays in shape. He comes in, he throws strikes. He's keeping the ball down to get double plays. I don't have to hit for him if he comes up like you do a lot of relievers, because he can hit. Therefore, he can extend that part of my bullpen out, unlike a lot of guys.
"In the second half [of last year] and this year, he's had a little trouble with the lineup about the third time around. To me, that equals, in theory, a perfect long man."
In six starts this season, Leake is 3-1 with a 5.77 ERA. On Monday during a 10-4 loss to the Astros, he gave up a season-high seven runs over a season-low 3 2/3 innings, surrendering seven hits. Almost all of the damage came in the fourth inning after he had seemingly been cruising.
Leake did not fare well as a reliever in two appearances after being lifted from the rotation last season when he neared his innings limit. He gave up eight earned runs and 11 hits over 2 2/3 innings. If the newly whole Reds rotation gets into a rhythm, Leake might see sporadic action as a long man. The club is currently opposed to sending him to Triple-A Louisville to get consistent work as a starter.
"We were going to start the season with him as the long man and my sixth starter -- don't send him out to the Minor Leagues yet," Baker said. "That's why we sent [Matt] Maloney down to get stretched out. The way my starters have been going, I've got him and [Sam] LeCure. I've got two long guys, which is what we need right now. Once they [in the rotation] start humming again, we'll deal with that when they get there. We've got to start humming first."