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Reds’ Leake stymies Nationals 5-1, improves to 5-0

Associated Press

Mike Leake (5-0) allowed seven hits, walked none and struck out five, becoming the first pitcher in Reds history to go undefeated after 11 major league starts.

WASHINGTON — Rookie Mike Leake insists he’s just been lucky. His unblemished record — and opponents — say otherwise.

Leake allowed an unearned run over seven innings to remain unbeaten and the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Washington Nationals 5-1 on Saturday night.

Leake (5-0) allowed seven hits, walked none and struck out five, becoming the first pitcher in Reds history to go undefeated after 11 major league starts. The right-hander is the first Cincinnati starting pitcher to win his first five decisions since Santo Alcala in 1976.

“There’s a little luck involved with wins and losses,” he said. “I worry about going and keeping the game close. If they have three runs then I want our team to have four runs. Or if we have three runs, then I’m going to try to keep their team to less than three runs. That’s just how I look at it.”

Maybe so, but the rookie — the 22-year-old is the 21st player since the amateur draft began in 1965 to reach the majors without appearing in a minor league game — has quickly made believers of those who doubted he could contribute.

Said Washington shortstop Ian Desmond: “You would never know that (Leake) didn’t play in the minor leagues or that this is his first year. He hit his spots all night. He pretty much abused us.”

“He’s a ballplayer,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He pitches to the situation. If you need a double play, he throws his best double-play pitch. You need a strikeout, he’ll go for the strikeout. That’s tough to teach, and most guys don’t learn that until far into their careers. … He’s years beyond his age.”

Leake also singled twice in three at-bats, raising his average to .417, the best mark in the majors for pitchers with at least 26 at-bats. He scored the decisive run.

“Sometimes I like hitting more than I like pitching,” he said. “It’s just fun to me to be able to go out and swing the bat every five days.”

The Reds used RBI doubles by Joey Votto and Orlando Cabrera and run-scoring singles by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to break a two-game skid.

Washington’s Luis Atilano (5-2) gave up two runs — one earned — and six hits in seven innings, the longest outing of his rookie season.

The Reds took advantage of an error for a 1-0 lead in the first, when leadoff hitter Cabrera reached on third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s wide throw. After Phillips bounced into a fielder’s choice, Votto hit an RBI double into the right-field corner.

Cabrera doubled home Leake in the fifth, making it 2-0. Leake singled to center and scored when Cabrera pulled a ball into the left-field corner. It was the third two-hit game this season for Leake, who has hit safely in seven of 11 starts.

Votto’s error allowed Washington to cut the lead in half in the sixth. With two outs and runners on first and second, Votto couldn’t catch Roger Bernadina’s soft liner, allowing Zimmerman to score from second.

Cincinnati added three runs in the eighth against the Nationals’ bullpen. Cabrera led off with a double to left-center — missing a homer by a foot — and Phillips, after twice failing to lay down a bunt, drove him in with a single up the middle off Tyler Walker.

Sean Burnett relieved and threw a wild pitch. Phillips was awarded third base when third base umpire Dan Bellino ruled that Desmond impeded Phillips’ progress between second and third, and Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was ejected by Bellino for protesting the call.

Votto then walked and, with the infield in, Scott Rolen grounded to short. Phillips scored when catcher Wil Nieves dropped Desmond’s throw after being bowled over at the plate. After Jonny Gomes struck out, Bruce delivered an RBI single to right for a 5-1 lead.

Home plate umpire Joe West ejected Nationals reliever Miguel Batista for hitting Phillips in the ninth.

Nieves said he had no problem with the home-plate collision, but took offense to the way Phillips animatedly pounded his chest after he was called safe. Batista’s fastball to Phillips’ ribs was payback that should have been anticipated, Nieves added, though Batista insisted it was just an inside pitch that got away.

“To me, the players took care of the issues,” Riggleman said. “I thought it was handled professionally by everybody involved. It’s over.”

Game notes

Atilano walked one and struck out a career-high six. … Before the game, the Nationals placed C Carlos Maldonado on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured right thumb and selected the contract of C Jamie Burke from Triple-A Syracuse. To make room for Burke on the 40-man roster, Washington released C Chris Coste. … Washington C Ivan Rodriguez, on the DL with lower back tightness, plans to take batting practice and run the bases Sunday. If all goes well, he will begin a rehabilitation assignment with Single-A Potomac on Monday. … Since taking over the leadoff spot May 5, Cabrera has hit safely in 23 of 26 starts. … The last Reds pitcher to open a season 5-0 was Bronson Arroyo in 2006. … Desmond committed his major league-high 15th error on the interference call.

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