Mike Leake, the tough luck loser

Winless in his last six starts, can Leake outduel Wainwright and the Cardinals?

Al Behrman/Al Behrman/Associated Press

CINCINNATI — If Mike Leake were any less of a man he would knock on Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty’s office door, peek in and say, "Trade me now. Please, trade me now."

That isn’t going to happen despite the fact Leake is this year’s tough luck and hang with ’em story for the Reds.

Much has been said and written about Johnny Cueto’s amazing run of pitching, only a 4-and-3 record despite a 1.85 earned run average and nine straight starts of giving up two or less runs and pitching seven or more innings.

Leake’s tale is just as perplexing, if not more so. His record is 2-and-3 with a 2.91 earned run average. And get this; he won two of his first three starts. He hasn’t won over his last six starts. The bullpen has blown three saves in those six games.

And to make it even more painful, despite mostly high quality pitching the Reds lost five straight games that he started.

It looked as if that might finally change last Monday in Washington. Leake turned over a 2-1 lead to the bullpen in the seventh inning. And it was still 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with Aroldis Chapman on the mound. Chapman gave up a run and the game went extra innings

At least the Reds won that one, 4-3, in 15 innings. But in Leake’s last four starts he has given up two, two, one and one runs and hasn’t won a game and the Reds only won one of those games.

It is enough that one might expect to see Leake poised on the blue railing of the Roebling Bridge that crosses the Ohio River next to Great American Ball Park.

"I can’t let it bother me and it doesn’t," said the 26-year-old right hander 5-foot-10 who looks more as if he should be standing in a high school graduation line than standing on a major-league pitching mound.

He was 14-7 last year with a 3.37 earned run avage and figures there is still plenty of time to win a lot of games. But there is plenty of time to lose a lot more games, too.

Gameday Live: Reds vs. Cardinals 5/24

But he can only control what he does on the mound and not how his teammates do in the batter’s box to help him out.

Asked if he is often told to keep his chin up and look at the bright side, Leake smiled and said, "Yeah, Paul Lessard (team trainer) and Pricer (manager Bryan Price) have." He paused for a long moment and said, "It’s part of the year this year, I guess. It’s still early. You never know what might happen in the last four months. You could win every game or you could lose every game."

And wouldn’t you know it? On Sunday night, on national television, Leake gets to face the St. Louis Cardinals and their ace, Adam Wainwright (7-2, 1.85).

Leake, though, says he isn’t facing Wainwright. He isn’t even facing the Cardinals. He is facing himself.

"I’m not facing anybody else, ever," he said. "I am always facing myself. To me, my mentality is that I’m not even facing the Cardinals hitters. To a certain extent you have to know them, but I have to execute what I do best. My main goal is to do that rather than get them out."

Leake gets hitters with guile, not power. And he is like Greg Maddux, the Hall of Famer who dazzled and frustrated hitters with tantalizing pitches when he was with the Atlanta Braves: location, location, location.

Leake’s pitches never seem to cut through the heart of home plate. His pitches reside on the edge — inside, outside, down in the zone. Instead of feeding them filet mignon he tossed bologna at them.

He throws a cutter and changeup and a sinker and, when needed, dials up a decent fastball that he keeps out of the danger zone. No sliders?

"A few," he said. "I try not to use it too much because I feel like it is the one pitch that might make me blow out at some point," he said. "I minimize the use of them."

In other words, Leake hopes to slide right by the Cardinals Sunday without offering sliders. Leake is 3-4 in 10 starts against his team’s arch enemy. The Reds are 5-5 in those games and Leake has a 2.91 ERA. And the Cardinals have hit only .229 against him.

Then again, Leake isn’t pitching against the Cardinals. As he says, he is pitching against himself. But, of course, he’d appreciate some run support from his offense and some pitching support from his bullpen.