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MIL@CIN: Hanigan blasts a three-run shot to left

For one series, at least, the Reds are ahead of their own pace. Cincinnati swept Milwaukee over the weekend and will come into Tuesday's game against the Astros with a 3-0 record for the first time since 2005. The Reds spent the last 50 days of 2010 in first place of the National League Central, and Houston represents the next obstacle in going wire-to-wire this year.

The Reds tied last season's high with 19 hits on Sunday, suggesting that they might be a threat to repeat as the league leaders in home runs, batting average and RBIs. But if the Reds are going to go deep into the postseason, they'll need some maturation from their pitching staff, and second-year starter Mike Leake will be one of the chief arms in question.

Leake, who will be matched against J.A. Happ in Tuesday's series opener, became just the 21st player since 1965 to appear in a Major League game without playing in the Minor Leagues first. The 23-year-old held his own as a rookie, and the Reds went 12-10 in his starts, but four of those losses came by one run and six came in the opponent's final at-bat.

Leake missed some time with a tired shoulder in the second half last year, but he felt healthy coming out of Spring Training. The right-hander was hit hard early, but he pitched well in his final start of the exhibition season.

"Each year is going to be a progression, and the maturity level slowly comes," said Leake of how he'll approach his second year in the Major Leagues. "It's not going to be easier but I will know what to expect."

Houston got swept in its first series of the year, a fate it also experienced in 2010. Happ had originally been scheduled to pitch in Sunday's series finale against Philadelphia, his former team, but the Astros gave him some extra time due to a mildly strained right oblique. Happ and Bud Norris swapped spots in the rotation, and Happ said he's looking forward to his debut.

"I'm just anxious more than anything," he said. "I'm going to go out there Tuesday and try to calm myself, but I'm sure I'll be ready to go."

Astros:
Bill Hall, one of Houston's offseason free-agent acquisitions, went 0-for-4 in each of his first two games. Hall, batting fifth behind Carlos Lee, finally got his first hit in Sunday's finale. The Astros are also waiting for production from center fielder Michael Bourn (.083 average) and first baseman Brett Wallace (.091), who combined to go 2-for-23 in the opening series.

The Astros have allowed their opponents to score in the first inning in two straight games. Two hitters have answered the bell: Hunter Pence homered and had three hits for Houston on Sunday, and Carlos Lee had four RBIs in Saturday's loss.

Reds:
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker has already passed one manager on the all-time wins list this season, and he can pass another this week. Baker, who has 1,408 career wins, can catch Hall of Famer Al Lopez for 23rd place with two more victories. The Reds went 61-30 against teams with a losing record last year, fueling their first winning season in a decade.

The Reds have made two errors -- both by outfielder Jonny Gomes -- in their first three games, getting off to a tough start in that category. Cincinnati registered the highest fielding percentage (.988) in franchise history last year and made just 72 errors, 17 less than the previous low mark. Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo won Gold Gloves last season.

Worth noting
Ryan Hanigan had his first career multi-homer game on Sunday. ... Jay Bruce celebrated his 24th birthday Sunday, and Rolen turned 36 Monday. ... The Reds tied Philadelphia for the most series wins (32) last season. ... Leake was the first Red to make his professional debut in the big leagues since Bobby Henrich in 1957. ... Houston went 5-10 against Cincinnati last year and 2-4 on the road at Great American Ball Park. ... The Reds were just 30-41 against teams with a .500 or better record last season. ... Aneury Rodriguez, Houston's Rule 5 pick, has pitched twice and owns a 20.25 ERA thus far.

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