With Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey both due back in the coming weeks, Mike Leake's spot in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation could soon be at risk.
If he continues his recent hot streak, though, he might not have much to worry about.
Seeking a fourth consecutive winning decision, Leake takes the mound for the Reds as they try to continue their recent home success against the Houston Astros in Monday night's series opener.
Since taking five straight at Great American Ball Park to open the season - including two wins over the Astros (11-17) - Cincinnati (14-14) dropped to 8-8 at home after falling 9-5 to Florida on Sunday.
Reds starters, who have compiled one of the worst ERAs in the majors (5.28), have in contrast gone 9-1 with a 2.86 ERA during a 13-3 stretch against Houston at home. The offense has also thrived over that span, outscoring the Astros 98-44.
Cincinnati's potent offense, which ranks at or near the top of the NL in runs (147) and homers (35), was held to a season-low two hits during Leake's (3-0, 4.40 ERA) most recent start, a 3-2 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday. The right-hander allowed two runs and seven hits over seven innings.
Leake, who was accused of shoplifting during an incident at a department store on April 18, saw his charge reduced to unauthorized use of property Friday.
"He pitched better, actually (since the altercation)," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's something he wanted to prove to us. Hopefully, he'll have some closure now."
Leake, 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four career starts against Houston, has recorded three straight quality starts overall. With another solid outing, he could increase his odds of staying in the rotation once Cueto and Bailey return from rehabbing their respective injuries.
"We've got a plan," Baker told the Reds' official website. "We don't necessarily want to say or don't necessarily want them to know yet. We don't want them to get ahead of themselves. We want them to go out and pitch and do the best they can to win and go as far as they can go at this point."
Houston defeated Milwaukee 5-0 on Sunday for its second straight victory following a three-game skid.
The win may prove costly after Carlos Lee, who went 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs, had to be carted off after colliding with teammate Angel Sanchez in the outfield.
Lee was taken to the hospital for tests on the left side of his ribcage and was to spend Sunday night in the hospital. A chest X-ray did not reveal any rib fractures, but Lee was still scheduled to undergo a CT scan Sunday.
``He's going to take all kinds of tests and we'll find out more,' manager Brad Mills said. ``When you have a collision like that, we're going to get everything checked out. It might feel like ribs on the surface, but it could be something else.'
Houston will turn to J.A. Happ (1-4, 6.35) as it tries for its first three-game win streak of the season.
The left-hander, though, dropped his third consecutive start Wednesday, allowing two runs and five hits over five innings of a 6-5 loss to St. Louis.
"It's not going great, it is going tough for me personally," said Happ, who allowed a season-worst seven runs and seven hits in four innings of an 8-2 loss at Cincinnati on April 5.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who went deep Sunday, is 4 for 5 lifetime against Happ with two home runs.
The Associated Press News Service
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