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HOU@CIN: Baker on loss to the Astros

CINCINNATI -- If it hasn't come to that point yet already, it might seem to be close to where Mike Leake needs a good start to assure his place in the Reds rotation.

Leake wasn't very good as he was roughed up during a 6-4 Reds loss to the Astros on a chilly Friday evening. The right-hander spotted Houston an early 6-0 lead, however.

"We have to get Leaky straightened out because he's much better than he's pitching," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

After a stretch where it won five of six, Cincinnati has dropped two in a row to drop two games below .500 at 9-11.

In his third-straight lackluster outing, Leake gave up six runs (three earned) with seven hits and a strikeout over only 3 2/3 innings. That ran his total to 16 runs (13 earned) over 15 2/3 innings in his last three starts. Last season, he led the club with 12 wins and 118 strikeouts.

"He's just finding the heart of the plate sometimes, at the wrong time," Baker said. "This is killing him because this guy is a competitor big time. He'll get it. He'll figure it out. Perhaps, he should try less. He's trying real hard, probably too hard."

Leake had a 1-2-3 first inning and only a two-out infield hit against him in the second. In the third inning with two outs, things started to unravel as Leake left pitches over the heart of the plate that were crushed. With a runner on second base, Jose Altuve hit a line drive to right field. Jay Bruce missed on his diving attempt, allowing the ball to go all the way to the wall as Altuve reached on an RBI triple.

"I thought I should have caught it," Bruce said. "If I catch it, we're out of the inning and it saves two runs essentially. You can't expect that catch to be made. I thought I had a chance to get it. It hit my glove. It's one of those that didn't go our way."

J.D. Martinez followed Altuve with a lined RBI single to center field that made it a 2-0 game.

Houston returned in the fourth inning with Jed Lowrie's leadoff double to right-center field. Brian Bogusevic sharply grounded a ball that went off second baseman Brandon Phillips' bare right hand for an error that put runners on the corners.

The next batter, Chris Johnson, ripped an RBI double off the left-field wall to score Lowrie and Jason Castro's groundout to second base brought in another run. There were two outs when Jordan Schafer lined the first pitch he saw for an RBI single to finish Leake's night. Against Alfredo Simon, Schafer stole second base and came home when Altuve added an RBI double to right field that opened a 6-0 Astros lead.

"I gave them a couple of good pitches to hit. They were swinging early against me and I wasn't making good pitches," Leake said. "I think I'm just trying to figure out throwing strikes and what not to give them to hit. I'm just kind of stuck in the middle right now."

It was ample cushion for Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, who pitched six effective innings. The Reds got on the scoreboard in the fifth inning when pinch-hitter Todd Frazier's RBI triple to right-center field scored Bruce. In the Reds' sixth, Joey Votto dueled with Rodriguez for a 13-pitch at-bat. The count was 2-2 before Votto fouled off six of the following seven pitches. He finally lined a double to left field that scored Drew Stubbs from first base.

"He took everything I had. I threw him a lot of quality pitches," Rodriguez said of Votto. "He's a good hitter. Everybody knows that. I give all the credit to him."

A comeback attempt continued in the ninth with one out against Fernando Abad when Bruce ripped a 0-1 pitch to right-center field for a solo homer, his fifth long ball of the season. On Abad's very next pitch, Devin Mesoraco hit a no-doubter of a homer to left field, his first of 2012. But the early hole Leake dug was just deep enough to keep the Reds down as Brett Myers notched the final two outs for the save.

Leake is scheduled to pitch next on Thursday vs. the Cubs, however the Reds could have some flexibility. A Monday off-day would enable the club to skip his turn, if desired.

"The game just ended. It's kind of premature to ask me that," Baker said.

Potentially waiting in the wings is Aroldis Chapman, who has been sensational out of the bullpen in a set-up role. Before Friday's game, however, general manager Walt Jocketty said that while he wouldn't rule out an eventual move to the rotation for Chapman, he noted "it's not on the front burner."

At Triple-A Louisville, veteran lefty Jeff Francis gave up one run over eight innings in a start Friday vs. Norfolk. Francis has a 3.30 ERA through five starts.

However, Baker maintained his optimism that Leake would find his footing again.

"He's working hard. He'll find it," Baker said. "Everybody is capable of having three bad ones in a row. Just don't panic."

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