Reds fall to Harang, lose grip on first place

Reds fall to Harang, lose grip on first place

Reds fall to Harang, lose grip on first place
LOS ANGELES -- In both 2006 and '07, while he was the ace of the Reds' rotation, Aaron Harang won 16 games and was one of the better pitchers in the National League.

In the three subsequent years leading up to his not being brought back to Cincinnati, Harang struggled for six wins each season.

During a 4-1 loss to the Dodgers on Independence Day on Wednesday, the Reds faced Harang for the first time since his departure. They got the vintage version, and not the one they had when parting ways. In seven innings, Harang gave up only one run and three hits -- the only three hits Cincinnati had all night.

"Harang had a lot of life on his fastball up in the zone. We just didn't catch up to it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You saw how many popups and fly balls we hit. He was on tonight."

And that did not bode well for Reds starter Mike Leake, who endured a bumpy three-run bottom of the first inning before settling down and turning in a strong performance.

But for the first time since May 23, the Reds lost their hold of first place in the National League Central. The Pirates, who won their third straight vs. the Astros, hold a one-game lead over Cincinnati in the division standings.

Two of Leake's three runs were earned over seven innings with six hits, no walks and five strikeouts. He threw only 86 pitches. His streak of seven quality starts is a team high this season.

"I was helping them. I was leaving balls over the middle and not really locating well in the first inning," Leake said. "After that, I got into another rhythm."

Dee Gordon led off the Dodgers' first inning with a double to the right-field wall and scored when Luis Cruz chopped a single into right field. Bobby Abreu lined a hard single to center field and James Loney drove in Cruz with a grounded single to right field. Adam Kennedy followed with a potential double-play grounder to first baseman Joey Votto, but Zack Cozart's errant throw to Leake covering first base allowed Abreu to score for a three-run game.

Los Angeles had lefty hitters in four of the first five spots in its lineup against Leake.

"I don't mind it," Leake said. "I don't think it really changes the mindset. When I'm out there, I'm not really thinking about, 'Am I facing a lefty or righty?' It's 'What do I use to get this guy out?' Right now, I'm just locating the ball well, except for that first inning. I can't really complain."

Leake did not allow another run, and gave up only two more hits, retiring his final 13 batters in a row, but it was not enough to erase the damage from the first inning.

"Take away that first inning and he's still pitching," Baker said.

Leake (3-6), who started the season 0-5 with a 7.71 ERA, has a 2.55 ERA over his last 10 starts since May 11, when he suffered his last loss.

The Reds have been held to one run in each of the last two losses that cost them the series vs. the Dodgers. They are now 3-4 on the West Coast road trip with four games left in San Diego.

Harang, who pitched for the Reds from 2003-10, came in with a wild streak of late with 18 walks over his last four starts. No such problem was happening against Cincinnati.

"It was a combination of [facing his former club] and that I felt good," Harang said, having thrown only 84 pitches. "I was never really in a situation where I had to pitch out of a jam, just doing what I needed to do."

The only Reds run came in the fifth inning, when Devin Mesoraco crushed a one-out home run to the left-field seats.

"He was working pretty quickly and was very efficient with his fastball," said Votto, who had a two-out double in the first inning. "He located well. He used his height well. He has a naturally quick fastball. I think he attacked all of the weaker zones each of us have in our strike zone."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for 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.