ST. LOUIS -- Making what may have been his final start for the Reds, Mike Leake dazzled in front of a collection of scouts on hand for one more evaluation before Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Backed by Joey Votto three-run blast, Leake threw eight scoreless innings to help the Reds even a series at Busch Stadium with a 4-0 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday night.
Amid rumors that he might be headed elsewhere before the end of the week, Leake continued a string of sensational starts. He didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning on Tuesday and gave up only four in all. Over his last four outings, Leake is 4-0 with an 0.60 ERA (two runs/30 innings).
"I think there's a common thread when he's throwing the ball this well," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's tempo and conviction in his pitches, and the attack mode. I think he knows exactly what he wants to do when he gets on the mound."
Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia didn't look all that rusty in his first start since June 24. After missing a month with a groin injury, Garcia allowed just one hit over his first five innings. That was to Votto, who stung Garcia again in the sixth with a two-out homer, Votto's 19th home run of the year.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Votto's second-half tear: Votto's torrid post-All-Star-break stretch continued on Tuesday. After he reached safely his first two plate appearances, he provided the first big moment of the night by hitting Garcia's 1-0 pitch to straightaway center field for a three-run homer. It was Votto's 19th homer of the season and his fourth since the break. He has hit safely in 10 of 12 games in the second half, and seven of the last eight, while leading the Majors in batting, on-base percentage and hits in that span.
"I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it," Votto said. More >
The one that got away: While Votto may have had the decisive swing against Garcia, it was the walk to Brandon Phillips preceding the home run that was particularly nagging. Garcia had Phillips in a 1-2 count, but was unable to finish him off as the final out of the inning. Phillips eventually walked on the seventh pitch he saw -- one that Garcia thought was a strike -- and Votto homered two pitches later.
"I thought it was close," Garcia said of his 3-2 pitch. "It was borderline. From my perspective, it was a no-doubt strike, but once I saw it on video, it was hard to tell." More >
Leake not a sieve: Leake did not encounter much trouble but did work out of a situation after Jason Heyward lined a one-out pinch-hit double to right field in the eighth. Leake followed by getting a Kolten Wong fly to deep center field that was caught by Billy Hamilton before Matt Carpenter struck out to end the inning, preserving the shutout. More >
Silver lining: Making his first career start in right field, Stephen Piscotty was also the only Cardinals batter to reach base against Leake through the first five innings. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and then laced a fifth-inning single that spoiled any thought of a no-hit bid for the Reds righty. Piscotty has hit safely in all five of his Major League starts.
"He made pitches when he had to," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Leake. "He's a smart pitcher. He changes speeds. He takes different arm angles at times. He knows what he's doing. We have some guys with some success against him, but we've seen him at times where he's really dialed in and he doesn't give you a whole lot."
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With a ninth-inning double that capped a 3-for-3 night with a walk, Votto has reached safely in five straight plate appearances and 11 of his last 12. Since July 17, he has raised his batting average from .277 to .311, its highest since he was batting .315 on May 10.
"It's amazing. That's why we keep talking about how we just have to keep him on the mound. Because when he goes out there … that's a one-hitter through five. Just impressive the way he was going about it -- getting quick outs, getting bad swings, using everything." -- Matheny, on how sharp Garcia was following a month-long layoff.
"You can't take anything away from the at-bat Brandon had to get to Joey. Against a tough lefty, laying off a tough pitch. It looked like a hard slider down and in. He fought his way to 3-2, laid off a tough pitch for a walk and got Joey to the plate for the three-run homer. Certainly Leake getting the base hit with two strikes to get things going as well. There are a lot of little things in a 4-0 game that stand out and those were some of them." -- Price, on how the game was won.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: The three-game series will wrap up at 8:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Rookie Anthony DeSclafani will start for the Reds, in his 20th outing of the season. DeSclafani allowed three runs over seven innings on Friday at Colorado but was the victim of a blown save and settled for a no-decision.
Cardinals:John Lackey will start for the Cardinals on Wednesday seeking his ninth consecutive quality start. Over his last eight outings, Lackey has posted a 1.75 ERA. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. CT.