PITTSBURGH -- In his second big league start, Mike Leake gave the Reds something they spent all week searching for like loose change under a sofa cushion. Leake provided seven innings, a quality start and a chance to win. But he was doing it with a lineup essentially battling with one hand tied behind its back. A 4-3 loss was decided with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Lastings Milledge's RBI single off Nick Masset that scored Andrew McCutchen. But the die almost seemed cast against the Reds in the early innings.
"I just didn't get ready soon enough this time," Leake said of this outing. "It took me a few innings to get into my groove when I was going after them, instead of trying to lollygag around the zone." In his second no-decision in two starts, Leake allowed three earned runs and seven hits, with five walks and three strikeouts, while throwing 99 pitches. He started after a 69-minute rain delay. After two sharp hits by Akinori Iwamura and McCutchen to start the Pittsburgh first inning, Milledge followed with a sacrifice bunt and reached on Leake's throwing error to first base. McCutchen went to third base and scored on Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly for a 2-0 Pirates lead. Iwamura's RBI single in the bottom of the third inning made it a 3-0 game, but Leake held his own the rest of the night. "In the beginning, he was throwing them mostly fastballs, which they were hitting," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He changed game plans and threw more offspeed and really settled down, big time. He gave us seven strong innings, which is what we needed." All seven of Pittsburgh's hits against Leake came in the first four innings. He retired the side in order in the fifth and seventh innings. "He made a great adjustment and started changing speeds," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He kept us off balance. Being a young pitcher, you have to give him a lot of credit for making that adjustment." With the aid of a five-pitch top of the seventh inning, Pirates starter Zach Duke kept the Reds scoreless heading into the eighth. Duke had to be thanking the baseball gods for sparing him the presence of Joey Votto (10-for-16 lifetime vs. Duke) and Scott Rolen (7-for-16). Cincinnati was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, which ran its total to 1-for-18 in the past two games. The Reds managed to score three late runs without notching an RBI hit. Duke walked leadoff batter Drew Stubbs in the eighth and gave way to three Pirates relievers that combined for four more walks. Those walks included back-to-back free passes with the bases loaded to Jay Bruce and Ryan Hanigan that made it a one-run game. Pinch-hitter Chris Dickerson led off the top of the ninth against closer Octavio Dotel (1-0) with a triple to right-center field and scored the tying run on Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly to left field. Reds reliever Nick Masset (2-1) struck out his first two batters in the bottom of the ninth and twice needed just one more strike to get out of the inning. He didn't get it. McCutchen hit a 2-2 pitch for a soft single through the hole to left field. "Of all the guys you don't want to see on in a two-out situation, it's probably McCutchen," Baker said. Taking advantage of Masset's slower delivery, the uber-fast McCutchen easily swiped second base without a throw and got into scoring position. "Right when I got on base, I knew that when he lifts his leg up, I was going to go," McCutchen said. Masset had Milledge down in a 1-2 count but fell into a full count. Milledge lined one up the middle that easily scored McCutchen ahead of a desperation throw to the plate. "I was handling Milledge pretty good with some sinkers early," Masset said. "I think the last one he hit kind of stayed out over the plate and didn't sink as well." "It's a tough way to lose a game, but you have to remember the fact that we battled back," said Baker, whose team didn't get into town until nearly 3 a.m. ET. "Everybody is kind of running on fumes today, but they reached deep and got whatever was left in there." After starting the seven-game trip through Florida and Pittsburgh 2-0, the Reds have dropped their past three games. Their rotation is still the only one in the Majors without a victory this season. The good news was Leake, who has a 2.63 ERA and two quality starts to his credit. His previous outing on Sunday was the last quality start the team had. There is room for improvement, especially in throwing strikes. He now has 12 walks compared to eight strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. "I was just trying to be too picky with where I wanted it instead of just going after them -- that's why I had five more walks," Leake said. "After those first three runs, I had to keep us in the game. You can look back and wish you didn't give them up. You can't change the past. You just have to try and move on."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.