PITTSBURGH -- Mike Leake was Cincinnati's leading winner in 2011, when he compiled a 12-9 mark, but he lugged an 0-3 record and an untidy 6.55 ERA to the mound in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Although the 24-year-old right-hander pitched respectably, he absorbed another loss as the Pirates defeated the Reds, 3-2, before a Fireworks Night crowd of 33,019 at PNC Park.
Leake allowed only four hits in his seven innings of work and lowered his ERA to 5.97, but two of Pittsburgh's hits were home runs.
The first was a two-run shot by Neil Walker in the third inning, a towering blast deep into the bleachers above the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall in right field that followed a two-out double by Jose Tabata.
It was the first homer of 2012 for the Pirates' second baseman and it came in his 89th at-bat. The other round-tripper was a solo shot by outfielder Alex Presley that came with two outs in the seventh and was his second of the year.
Leake left the game trailing 3-1 after seven innings, but was encouraged by his outing.
"It was definitely a step in the right direction," Leake said. "Even though I had four walks, I was still happy with the way I threw the ball. I had a couple more mistakes than what showed, but they made me pay for two of them."
Leake described the pitch that Walker hit as a "cutter that wasn't in enough" and said Presley launched a ball that caught "a little too much of the plate with the fastball."
Despite those notable mistakes, Reds manager Dusty Baker saw improvement over Leake's first four starts.
"He threw better tonight," Baker said. "He threw well tonight -- except for the two gopher balls. Leaky just made two bad pitches. The one to Presley was really a shocker, because he's not known to hit home runs."
"I don't think tonight was a whole lot different than what [Leake's] been doing, to tell you the truth," said Devin Mesoraco, who caught Leake on Saturday. "He hit a lot of spots and made some good pitches when he needed to. Obviously he made the two mistakes that were not his best pitches, but at the same time, we were just trying to be aggressive. But he got a lot of ground balls early and a lot of early outs, and that's what he does."
On Friday, Cincinnati had 12 hits -- including three homers -- in a 6-1 series-opening victory. But on Saturday, the Reds could not mount much offense against Pirates starter James McDonald. The right-hander struck two batters in each of the first three innings and had seven over his 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits.
"When he has his breaking ball working he's tough, and the first few innings there he was throwing that breaking ball well," Baker said. "That was a power breaking ball, but we figured if we stayed close we'd have an opportunity to get him."
The Pirates also flashed a considerable amount of leather in keeping the Reds off the scoreboard until the seventh, including center fielder Andrew McCutchen tracking down a well-struck drive off the bat of Zack Cozart in the third inning, and a lunging grab by Jose Tabata near the warning track in left field that retired Joey Votto to end the sixth.
Pittsburgh also turned double plays in four consecutive innings -- the fourth through the seventh -- to help snuff out potential rallies by the Reds.
"The double play is the pitcher's best friend, and we hit into two and ran into two more," Baker said. "That's eight outs of the 27 on four pitches right there. You usually don't win if you hit into that many double plays."
Ironically, Cincinnati scored its first run when McCutchen failed to get in front of a low line drive off the bat of Jay Bruce with one out in the seventh. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and Bruce ended up at third base on what was ruled a triple. Scott Rolen then dropped a soft, floating single into left field, which scored Bruce to make it 2-1 and ended McDonald's evening.
"I thought he had a chance to catch it, but he didn't," Bruce said of the ball that eluded McCutchen. "But he's one of the best center fielders in the game. If anyone has a chance to catch a ball like that he does. That one just worked out in my favor."
Cozart's double down the left-field line in the top of the eighth scored Mesoraco all the way from first base to draw the Reds within 3-2. But Jason Grilli struck out Brandon Phillips with a pair of runners aboard to end that frame. Then Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan worked the ninth and registered his fifth save of the season, retiring Bruce, Rolen and Ryan Ludwick in order.
Jim Lachimia is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.