In the moments after his team's 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Giants, Reds manager Dusty Baker wouldn't name a starting pitcher for a Game 4 (Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET on TBS) that he was hoping to avoid. The Reds had just missed a chance to sweep the series, to advance to the NL Championship Series and to buy time -- mostly for ace Johnny Cueto to recover from a right rib-cage injury suffered in Game 1.
But the Giants spoiled that chance, so Baker announced two candidates for Game 4: Mat Latos, who would have to work on short rest after delivering four innings of emergency relief in Game 1, or Mike Leake, who would have to replace Cueto on the Reds' postseason roster, rendering Cueto, by rule, ineligible to pitch again until the World Series. In that scenario, they would have to get through the best-of-seven NLCS without their best starting pitcher.
Another Reds starter, Homer Bailey, may have spilled the beans when he said late Tuesday, "We still have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow's game. You know, Leake's starting tomorrow, and we have a lot of confidence in him."
In a quiet clubhouse, both Latos and Leake insisted they did not know who would pitch.
Latos: "I've got no idea."
And Leake, who was left off the club's NLDS roster because of the condensed best-of-five format: "It would be cool if I do get a chance to help them out. It's what I've been waiting for. If not, then you kind of readjust."
This uncertainty was unlike anything the Reds experienced during the regular season, when every starter took every turn in the rotation as scheduled. This year's Reds and Giants are among only nine teams in Major League history to produce five pitchers with at least 30 starts apiece. It's the first Reds staff since 1943 with four pitchers to top 200 innings.
At least the Reds' catcher was a sure bet: Ryan Hanigan. He insisted the team will be able to overcome this bit of adversity.
"Sure, we've done it all year," Hanigan said. "We've had guys get hurt, and we've had other guys step up. I have a lot of confidence in all our guys. That's how it's going to have to be. I don't know how [Cueto] is feeling. Hopefully he'll be back soon, but until then, we're going to have to go with what we've got."
Baker's caution in announcing the plan was unavoidable. Losing Cueto for the NLCS would be a big blow, assuming the Reds advance, and assuming he could heal in time to pitch.
"It's very difficult, but it all depends if your ace can't go or whatever it is," Baker said. "So you have to go with the healthy bodies. ... We realize what's at stake, and that's part of the decision if a guy can, if we think he's going to be able to go in the next series."
Latos may be dealing with his own physical issue, an illness he picked up near the end of the regular season. He denied being sick to a reporter on Tuesday night, and Baker, asked whether Latos was ill, simply said, "I can't answer that."
Latos looked strong in his first Major League relief appearance on Saturday in Game 1, when he hurriedly warmed up while reliever Sam LeCure covered the first 1 2/3 innings after Cueto's sudden exit. Latos delivered four innings, scattering four hits and being burned only by a Buster Posey solo home run while holding the Reds' lead from the fourth through the seventh innings. He was rewarded with a hold in Cincinnati's 5-2 win.
Baker called the outing, "what championships are made of."
"His stuff plays regardless of whether it's on short days' rest, whatever it may be," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "He's young. He's ready. He likes having the ball, and I think that's something that can't be said for everyone."
Will Latos get an opportunity to do it again? Or Leake?