Leake hits first HR, earns first win of season

Leake hits first HR, earns first win of season

Leake hits first HR, earns first win of season
CINCINNATI -- Mike Leake took another very promising step toward putting some distance from a terrible start to the season.

In the Reds' 4-1 win over the Braves on Monday night, Leake hit for some distance, too.

Leake hit the first home run of his Major League career, which was part of three consecutive long balls by the Reds with two outs in the fourth inning. He was even more impressive from the mound, where he gave up one run and only two hits over eight innings to earn his first victory of 2012.

"That was a big performance by him," said Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs, who had a two-homer game. "He's been struggling this year. That's got a huge boost in confidence for him. We were all glad to see him do it."

After Leake departed, Aroldis Chapman was not available to close after working four of the previous five games and two in a row. Jose Arredondo retired two batters before issuing a pair of walks. Former closer Sean Marshall got a Jason Heyward flyout to right field to end the game for his eighth save.

Through his first six starts, Leake was 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA and seemed to be on a trajectory toward being out of the rotation. Then on Wednesday vs. the Mets, he allowed three runs (one earned) over six well-pitched innings.

"I was just inconsistent," Leake said of his earlier performances. "I wasn't getting ahead, and I wasn't throwing to where I wanted it ... it was a combination of everything. I finally sucked it up, and I think I'm headed down the right track."

In the first inning, Stubbs started the home run derby with a drive into the left-field seats to make it a 1-0 game against Braves lefty Mike Minor, who set a career high for homers allowed on Monday.

Leake had retired five of his first six batters with one walk when ex-Red Juan Francisco crushed a 1-1 pitch for a homer into the right-field bullpen. After that, Leake retired a stretch of 14 in a row and 19 of his last 21. He threw 68 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

"I was just attacking, going after hitters and not worrying about who is in the box," Leake said. "It's nice to have a little attitude these last couple of outings."

Leake, who walked one and struck out six, is now 1-5 with a 5.32 ERA in eight starts.

"He was studying tirelessly to find out what was wrong," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Cincinnati has won three in a row and six of its past nine games while in a stretch of 20 straight games without a day off. Within that span, the Atlanta four-game series is part of 14 consecutive games against clubs with winning records.

"He had it going on big time tonight," Baker said of Leake. "I'm just so glad for him that he got on the board, finally. It's big for us, too. This is a big series against a very good team and a very good hitting team."

The 1-1 tie was snapped in the fourth with back-to-back-to-back home runs against Minor -- all with two outs.

First to go deep was Leake, who lifted a 1-2 pitch into the left-field seats. Leake did not hesitate as he briskly circled the bases for his first big league blast.

"I've always sprinted around. I'm not a fan of the slow jog," said Leake, who recalled a couple of homers while at Arizona State. "I'm pretty happy about that one. I'm sure it was going to come eventually, but it was nice. Nice to hit it against somebody that I knew, too. I started a trend, I guess."

Leake and Minor, who attended Vanderbilt, were college standouts at the same time and were 2009 first-round Draft picks. Minor was selected seventh and Leake, who was 2-for-2 with the bat in his previous start and now has 31 hits over his past three seasons, was the eighth overall pick.

"I knew Leake was a good hitter," Minor said. "I've known him since college, and I know he could hit in college, too, so it wasn't like I was taking him lightly. I was throwing him offspeed pitches, and usually you throw a pitcher a lot of fastballs up. I was throwing him inside fastballs and changeups. He knew that was my best pitch, too."

Following Leake, Zack Cozart sent a 1-1 pitch into the same vicinity and was followed by Stubbs, who hit a 3-2 pitch that landed in the right-field seats.

"Whenever you see the guys in front of you hit a homer, it kind of ramps you up a little bit to do it also," Stubbs said. "I don't know why that was, but we were able to put three good swings in a row."

The Reds last hit three straight homers on Sept. 10, 2011, in Denver. Just a couple of days ago while in New York, Baker was saying he hoped his offense would start clearing the fences more often as the Reds were being outhomered by opponents for the season.

"You can't depend on them, but you sure can score quickly with them," Baker said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.