CINCINNATI -- After Saturday, the Reds were tied for last in the Majors in run production with 28, and one might have wondered if this meant lean times were ahead offensively.
How about now? In the three games since, Cincinnati has almost doubled its season output. Tuesday's 7-5 Reds victory over the Pirates came via a season-high 15 hits and gave them a combined 26 runs and two wins in these last three games.
It also came on the heels of losing the completion of Monday's rain-suspended game by an 8-7 score, in which the Reds had four of the game's 10 homers. The series will be decided on Wednesday afternoon.
"Hitting is always contagious," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who hit a two-run homer in a key four-run sixth inning. "I believe that through and through, and once you see one guy doing well, you want to be prepared and do the same thing. If we keep playing a team game and understand that once we start hitting and getting them over and getting them in, we're going to be a fun team to watch."
Reds starter Mike Leake turned in another good start with three runs and five hits allowed over 6 2/3 innings. Leake walked one and tied a career high with eight strikeouts.
Plenty of collaboration backed Leake -- whether it was the 4-for-4 game for Joey Votto or the three-hit, two-RBI night for Devin Mesoraco or Frazier's homer.
Besides getting some help from his friends offensively, Leake helped himself as well. He became the first Reds pitcher since Randy Kiesler on June 7, 2005, against Tampa Bay, to notch a homer and a double in the same game.
"It was bound to happen. We're a good hitting team," Leake said. "Sometimes we do hit ruts when they're not clicking on all cylinders. I think a couple of switchups actually did us pretty well and I think it will do a great job for us."
Over the weekend, manager Bryan Price adjusted the lineup with changes that included moving Votto up to the second spot and putting Brandon Phillips in the third spot.
"Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to what happens in baseball," Price said. "I don't want to put it all on the fact that we shuffled the lineup. Guys are more comfortable. We understand and appreciate that it's early in the season. We'd like to have a better record than we do. We just really want to play better baseball."
In the third inning, Leake hit a leadoff double and scored on Votto's broken-bat RBI two-out single to center field to make it a 1-1 game. A Leake mistake cost him a run in the fourth. With runners on the corners and no outs, Russell Martin hit a comebacker to the mound. Andrew McCutchen appeared halfway between third base and home, but Leake did not hesitate and turned to throw towards second base instead to start a double play. He skied the ball over Phillips into center field for an error that scored McCutchen and left everybody safe.
"I thought it was the right decision," Price said. "Take the comebacker for the two outs and give up the run in the fourth. He did not give up another run. That could have been the big blow to open up the inning."
In the bottom of the sixth with Jay Bruce on third base and no outs, Frazier lined a Gerrit Cole 1-1 slider the other way. It carried well for a two-run homer to right field.
Two batters later and with one out, Mesoraco hit a double to center field. With two outs, Leake helped himself a second time when he pulled a 2-1 Cole pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run homer -- the third long ball of his career -- to give the Reds a 5-2 lead.
"The guy's a good hitter for a pitcher," Cole said. "He wore us [UCLA] out at ASU, at the plate and on the mound. So that wasn't the first time I've seen him do stuff like that. But in that situation, we're down one run at that point, that can't happen."
Pittsburgh narrowed the game as Leake crossed the 100-pitch mark in the top of the seventh. Neil Walker led off with a hard-hit single, followed by a lined double by Gaby Sanchez. Jordy Mercer's sacrifice fly made it a two-run game.
The Reds pulled away with another two runs in the bottom of the seventh against the Pirates' bullpen. With two outs against Justin Wilson, Roger Bernadina hustled out an infield single on a slow grounder to second base. Jeanmar Gomez was summoned to replace Wilson and gave up Mesoraco's lined single to left field that scored Votto and Frazier. In his six games since coming off of the disabled list, Mesoraco has a team-leading nine RBIs.
"The play of the game was Roger Bernadina busting his tail to beat out the infield hit before Devin gets the two-run single," Price said. "That was absolutely huge for us to put that gap in what ended up being the deciding runs."
Pittsburgh kept the pressure on in the eighth against Manny Parra. After Votto nicely fielded and turned a potential 3-6-1 double play, the call was overturned on a manager's replay challenge because Pedro Alvarez beat the throw to first base. It had consequences after there were two outs for Parra when Walker crushed a two-run homer to left field.
In the ninth against Jonathan Broxton on for his first save chance of the season, the Pirates had McCutchen up representing the go-ahead run with two outs. Following three foul balls with two strikes, McCutchen popped out to end it.
"We made a couple of mistakes and we stood pat and overcame," Frazier said. "After that tough loss from those three innings we played, to come back and get a win like that, I think, showed a little character."