CLEVELAND — Mike Leake laughed at the second inning. It wasn’t a good laugh. It was an incredulous laugh, a ‘What just happened?’ laugh.
Leake walked three Cleveland Indians in a row. Leake had never walked three batters in a row in his professional career. Leake rarely walks that many in nine innings. He had walked just three batters in his three previous starts and only seven in his previous seven starts.
So when Leake threw four straight pitches out of the zone to Michael Bourn with the bases loaded in the second inning, sometimes there’s nothing to do but laugh an incredulous laugh, which really isn’t a laugh at all.
There was nothing funny about how Leake’s night at Progressive Field went or with the 7-3 loss the Indians handed the Reds, the sixth consecutive loss for the Reds. No one was taking it as funny, least of all Leake, who suffered through a second consecutive rough outing after getting off to a 2-1 start that included a 2.36 ERA.
He gave up five runs on seven hits and five walks in just four innings Friday.
"I’m just not executing the pitches very well right now and it’s been that way for the last two or three starts," said Leake. "I even came back laughing on that (second inning) because for some reason for a couple of batters I couldn’t throw the ball where I wanted. I believe every pitcher has felt it before. Unfortunately it was in that inning."
Leake has been the model of consistency, a newer version of Bronson Arroyo in his ability to throw strikes, eat up innings and give his team a chance even if his stuff isn’t overpowering. He isn’t a "strikeout" pitcher but Friday was the first time in 151 career starts he had failed to strike out at least one batter.
Only once last season did Leake start and not go at least five innings. It happened just twice in 2013. It’s not the first time Leake has been hit hard or hasn’t been sharp in consecutive outings but those occurrences aren’t often.
San Francisco touched Leake up for nine runs on 11 hits last Saturday. It’s the most runs he’s ever allowed in a game and the second-most hits he’s given up. But he only walked one in those five innings.
"He was around the zone, a lot of close pitches but wasn’t able to make the pitches he needed to and used a lot of pitches in that particular inning," said manager Bryan Price. "He just never got locked in. This is a group he’s had a lot of success against as far as the matchups going into tonight’s game and it just was never rolling."
He was never in control Friday. Jason Kipnis hit the first pitch Leake delivered into center field for a single. Carlos Santana hit into a double play to take Kipnis off the base path but then Leake walked his first batter of the game, Michael Brantley. He got Brandon Moss to fly out to Jay Bruce in right field but it was a hard hit liner that Bruce caught.
Moss didn’t miss the next two times he faced Leake. His lead-off home run in the third inning broke a 2-2 tie and he drove a double into the right field corner with two outs in the fourth inning that broke the game open at 5-2. First base was open and Price could’ve called for Moss to be walked but he said that’s a ‘Pick your poison’ situation given how David Murphy, batting behind Moss, was hitting .480 in his last 10 games. The choice didn’t work out, and the way things are going for the Reds right now, a three-run deficit might as well be 300 runs.
Leake’s start Friday was emblematic of what’s happened during the losing streak. The Reds starters, aside from Johnny Cueto, aren’t getting them deep into the game or keeping them within striking distance. The ERA of the starters is 11.57 in these last seven games. Since May 10, the starters are 1-6 with a 6.40 ERA, worst in the majors according to STATS, LLC.
"We’ll all figure it out," said Leake. "It’s a long season. It’s just unfortunate that it’s all happening at the same time. It kind of puts it on a scope when everybody is doing it and it’s all happening at the same time. Hopefully it’s something we’ll put in the past and we’ll start doing pretty well."
Just as this recent stretch for Leake is unusual, so is the collective struggles of the Reds’ starters.
"I would say probably in 2011 we had some times where Woody (Travis Wood) wasn’t throwing the ball as well or (Edison) Volquez or Leake got off to a slow start," said Price, who was the pitching coach in 2011. "It’s just really painful when you’re in it because you hate to have that type of separation from ourselves and our opponent to dig ourselves out of those types of holes early in the game."