PITTSBURGH — It seems like Mike Leake’s spot in the Cincinnati Reds’ starting rotation has been in jeopardy since the first day of spring training.
With the Reds planning to convert closer Aroldis Chapman to a starter in spring training, Leake appeared headed to a long relief role until Cincinnati reversed course with Chapman. When ace Johnny Cueto went on the disabled list in mid-April, there was speculation that Leake could be the odd starter out upon Cueto’s return.
However, Leake is still in the rotation and continued his recent run of strong pitching by working six scoreless innings Saturday night as the Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.
Leake (5-2) scattered seven hits as the Pirates stranded seven runners during his six innings. He had five strikeouts and one walk. In his last four starts, Leake has gone 3-0 with a 0.27 ERA, allowing only one run in 33 innings.
“I didn’t want to lose my spot in the rotation, and it definitely gave me a little motivation,” Leake said. “When I start hearing I’m going to lose my spot, part of me says don’t worry about it and part of me says get a little attitude going.
“And the third part is to worry about it, so you try to forget about that third part.”
The Reds shut out Pittsburgh for the second straight night as the Pirates lost back-to-back games for the first time since May 8-9. On Friday, Cueto pitched eight innings of a one-hitter.
“Most people respond when you show a a little faith in them and Leakie has done that,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “He pays attention. He learns. He’s helping us, and he’s helping himself.”
Francisco Liriano (3-2) struck out 11 in six innings and allowed only one run but lost his second straight decision.
“Wow. He was really good,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was done physically after six but it was a really good six innings.”
Liriano also struck out seven batters in a row between the first and third innings, tying the club record set by Erik Bedard on May 3, 2012 at St. Louis.
“You could tell right from the start he was good and I was going to have to be pretty good, too, if we were going to have a chance to win,” Leake said.
Chapman pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out Alex Presley swinging with runners on first and second to end it for 14th save in 16 opportunities.
Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, who entered the day with a National League-leading 44 RBIs, had two hits but left the game in the eighth inning with a bruised left forearm after being hit by a pitch from Tony Watson.
X-rays were negative, but Baker said Phillips would definitely miss today’s game and perhaps a few more.
“The first thing I thought of was Curtis Granderson,” Phillips said, referring to the New York Yankees left fielder suffering a broken forearm in February during his first plate appearance of the exhibition season. “I thought it was broken, for sure. I’m still having a hard time closing my hand, but I’m very thankful it wasn’t broken and that I won’t be out for very long.”
Todd Frazier also had two the Reds’ 10 hits.
Presley had three hits for the Pirates a day after being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. Garrett Jones added two hits.
Pittsburgh outhit Cincinnati, 10-8, but left 10 runners on base and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“We couldn’t get (hits) at the right time,” Hurdle said. “Opportunities were out there, but we couldn’t get anything going.”
Phillips’ infield single drove in Zack Cozart from second base with the game’s first run with two outs in the fourth inning. Replays showed that Liriano beat Phillips to the bag while catching the throw from Jones, the first baseman, but first umpire Bob Davidson made a safe call.
Joey Votto added an RBI single for the Reds in the eighth.
NOTES: As part of Negro League heritage weekend at PNC Park, the Pirates wore replica Homestead Grays uniforms and the Reds wore Cincinnati Tigers throwbacks. ... Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte, who hit .243 in May after batting .327 in April, was not in the starting lineup and was replaced by Presley. ... Rookie outfielder Derrick Robinson started for Cincinnati in left field for a third consecutive game, again taking the place of Xavier Paul. ... Liriano had double-digit strikeouts for the 12th time in his eight-year career. ... The three-game series ends today with Reds right-hander Mat Latos (5-0, 3.01) facing right-hander Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.30).