Leake, Reds cruise past Mets after three-run first

Righty tosses seven scoreless innings after club capitalizes on error

Leake, Reds cruise past Mets after three-run first

NEW YORK -- The engine of the Reds' rotation is once again purring like a kitten, and as its fifth starter, Mike Leake has done every bit his part to keep it running smooth.

Leake had his second straight scoreless outing and benefited from some Mets miscues in the field to get a 4-0 victory on Tuesday at Citi Field. His seven innings of work have given him 13 2/3 scoreless frames in his last two starts.

"Everything seemed to work," Leake said. "They were pretty aggressive tonight, so I was able to locate the fastball first pitch and get some early outs. If I needed to go deep, I had some other pitches to use as well."

Leake, who gave up only three hits and two walks with four strikeouts, is 4-2 with a 3.25 ERA in nine starts this season, as all six Reds starters used have ERAs of 3.28 or lower thus far. One of those pitchers includes Tony Cingrani, who lost out on staying in the Majors when Johnny Cueto returned from the disabled list.

There was no place on the roster for Cingrani, especially with Leake excelling from the fifth spot. He has a 2.28 ERA over his last seven starts.

"The guy has worked hard," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The guy has been under a lot of scrutiny. He's young. Sometimes you expect a whole lot out of young guys -- too much sometimes, too soon. He's throwing the ball as well as anybody we have."

Since the Reds' rotation ended a stretch of nine straight games without a quality start, the group has been stellar. In the nine games since -- beginning on May 12 against the Brewers -- the starting five is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and seven quality starts.

"Everything starts with those five guys," said catcher Devin Mesoraco, who walked with the bases loaded in the first inning and hit a homer to lead off the top of the ninth. "We've got full confidence in them, especially with what they've done in the past. They'll go out there and give us a chance to win a ballgame."

Mets starter Jon Niese got two quick outs in the top of the first before the inning got out of control. Niese had full counts on his next three hitters and all reached safely, with a walk to Joey Votto, a soft single by Brandon Phillips and a Jay Bruce walk that loaded the bases.

The big break of the night followed. Todd Frazier hit a routine ground ball that rolled between the legs of third baseman David Wright to score two runs.

"It was hit sharply," Wright said. "I just got a tricky in-between hop. I looked at the replay trying to learn what I could have done differently, and I really couldn't do much. I just wish the ball would have found the glove."

Donald Lutz beat out an infield single to reload the bases for Mesoraco, who worked another full count before walking to force in the inning's third run. After needing only seven pitches for the first two outs, Niese threw a whopping 48 pitches overall in the first inning.

All three runs were unearned. The No. 1 beneficiary of the long inning was, of course, Leake.

"It helps you relax a bit and go out and attack hitters instead of being timid with pitches and trying to keep the game 0-0," Leake said.

After he gave up a leadoff single in the first inning, Leake retired 10 of his next 11 batters without a hit allowed. Another break for the Reds came in the fourth inning, when John Buck hit a two-out double to the right-field wall. On first base with a walk, Lucas Duda was unable to score and had to hold up at third base. Leake got the struggling Ike Davis to ground out softly to first base to end the threat.

Duda was the only batter to reach third base all night against Leake.

"He made a lot of pitches when he had to," Mesoraco said. "He kind of fell behind to some batters. But once he had to make a pitch, he'd bear down and make some good pitches with guys on base."

Twice, Leake cruised through seven-pitch innings -- once during the fifth and again in his seventh and final inning to end his evening at 99 pitches.

It was the third time in the last four games where a Reds starter did not allow a run.

"We've all been throwing the ball really well," Leake said. "We're bound to hit a spurt where something happens. The longer we can keep it going, the better."

Cincinnati, which is 6-2 on the road trip with one game remaining and 12-12 on the road for the season, has taken the first two games of the three-game set to guarantee a winning series over the Mets. The Reds have also won nine of their last 11 games to improve their record to 28-18, a season-best 10 games over .500.

"That's how you get into winning streaks -- going 1 1/2 or two times through the rotation where everybody is doing well," Baker said. "It starts with the pitcher. We haven't exactly been knocking the cover off of the ball."

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.