CINCINNATI -- As well as Mike Leake was pitching against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, combined with his track record as a hitter, Reds manager Dusty Baker made a decision to try and squeeze a little more from his starting pitcher.
The choice to let Leake bat in the seventh inning and return to pitch the eighth backfired on Baker and the Reds in a 7-2 loss. Atlanta handed Cincinnati its first series loss at home of the season.
"It didn't work," Baker said. "I'm not going to make alibis or whatever when it doesn't work. It's not always going to work."
Leake and lefty Mike Minor were locked in a tight duel much of the day, but the Braves had a 2-1 lead on a pair of solo home runs by Dan Uggla in the fourth and sixth innings. The Reds' run came via a two-out solo homer by Zack Cozart in the bottom of the third.
After the Cozart homer, Minor retired 12 of his next 13 batters until Donald Lutz hit a two-out single to right field in the seventh. Devin Mesoraco walked, and Baker let Leake bat for himself.
The only true right-handed hitter on the bench was Corky Miller, a sub-.200 hitter lifetime and the only backup catcher. Switch-hitters Derrick Robinson and Cesar Izturis were available, but Robinson has had an injury that's limited him from the right side.
"Not to take anything away from our guys, [Leake] is the best right-handed hitter we had on the bench," Baker said.
The Reds' best-hitting pitcher, Leake flied out to left field to end the inning.
"I felt fine. I like hitting off Minor. He got one in on me," Leake said.
"It's one of those situations where you're supposed to get the pitcher out, but he's a good-hitting pitcher, so you don't want to leave anything over the plate," Minor said. "I was surprised [they let him hit]. We thought maybe they were trying to do something, but they left him in. That's how much confidence they have in him hitting."
Baker had several lefty hitters on the bench, but did not want to use Jack Hannahan or Xavier Paul against the left-handed Minor.
"You see the way he made Joey [Votto] look? It's tough sending another lefty up there after he made Joey look bad [0-for-4]," Baker said. "I would have sent him up there, say, against a guy throwing gas. I'd send Xavier up there against a guy throwing hard. [Minor] had 115 pitches, and I figured we had a better chance of [Leake] hitting a tired guy rather than bringing in a fresh body and pinch-hitting."
Leake returned to pitch the top of the eighth with 96 pitches.
"Since we let him hit, send him back out there to get at least part of the way through that inning," Baker said.
Leake fell behind in a 3-0 count to leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer before Schafer lined a full-count pitch for a single to right field. On a hit-and-run play that had Cozart breaking to cover second base from shortstop, Andrelton Simmons hit a perfect roller where Cozart wasn't for a single that put runners on the corners and ended the day for Leake.
"Schafer made me pay for getting behind. It was an unfortunate hit right after him," Leake said.
Against lefty Sean Marshall, Freddie Freeman singled in a run in front of diving right fielder Jay Bruce. The inning spun out of control as right-hander J.J. Hoover issued a four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Justin Upton to load the bases. Two batters later, ex-Red Juan Francisco blew the game open with a grand slam to right field.
Leake was charged with four runs and eight hits allowed over seven-plus innings, walking one and striking out six. It was the seventh straight non-quality start for the Reds' rotation, which has a 5.77 ERA (25 runs in 39 innings) in that span.
Minor finished having allowed one run and four hits over seven innings, with three walks and seven strikeouts. Cincinnati had won its first five series at home, the most for the club since it won seven in 1967.
Cincinnati's best chance to take out Minor came in the second inning, when it had the bases loaded and no outs following back-to-back walks. Lutz followed with a drive caught in left field. As Brandon Phillips tried to score on a sacrifice fly, Evan Gattis made a strong throw to the plate for a double play. The inning died when Mesoraco grounded out.
"All of a sudden, it went from bases loaded and no outs to runners on first and second with two outs," Cozart said. "It couldn't happen any better for Minor. That was definitely big for us."