Reds right-hander Mike Leake turned in his second consecutive strong start against a division rival on Tuesday night, improving to 2-1 on the season with 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball in a 7-5 win over the Pirates in Cincinnati. He also tied his career-high with eight strikeouts, reaching that total for the first time since July 2011. What set Tuesday night's performance apart for Leake, however, was what he did at the plate.
Facing highly-regarded Pirates sophomore Gerrit Cole, Leake doubled to lead off the third, coming around to score a run that tied the game at 1-1. Then, with two out, a man on, and the Reds up 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Leake hit a fastball from Cole into the left-field stands for a two-run home run that proved to be the difference in the game.
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That was no fluke swing by Leake. In fact, with Micah Owings and Dontrelle Willis both trying to mount comebacks in the minors, it's no stretch to call Leake the best-hitting pitcher in the major leagues. His .250 career batting average leads active pitchers with 250 or more plate appearances by 40 points over the Dodgers' Dan Haren. The career 59 OPS+ he brought into Tuesday night's game was also tops among those active pitchers, edging out power-hitting Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, whose 12 career home runs are the fourth most by a DH-era pitcher. He is also one of just 13 active pitchers to have hit for the cycle in his career, having now hit three home runs, nine doubles and a triple in his 273 career plate appearances.
Leake's career batting line is .250/.280/.335. That may not seem like much, but the resulting .615 OPS is higher than the 2013 mark of 30 non-pitchers who had 250 or more plate appearances last year, a group that included B.J. Upton and the Pirates' right fielder in Tuesday night's game, Travis Snider. No pitcher has surpassed the six total bases Leake compiled Tuesday night since Randy Wolf singled, doubled, and homered for the Dodgers in August 2009. Only four other pitchers have matched those six total bases since, the most recent being Tim Hudson in April of last season. Here's the kicker: Since 2009, a pitcher has compiled five or more total bases in a game 28 times, their teams are 27-1 in those games, and Leake is the only pitcher to appear three times on that list.