Leake clinging to spot in Reds rotation

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake throws against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011 in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake throws against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011 in Cincinnati.

The buzz surrounding the Reds rotation this spring, much like last year, is the potential transformation of Aroldis Chapman from closer to starter.

While that makes for great water cooler talk, it’s not exactly settling for right-handed pitcher Mike Leake. If Chapman does remain in the rotation, and the rest of the staff avoids the injury bug into April, Leake would likely be the one to see his starts reduced.

And although the 2009 first-round pick, who played collegiately at nearby Arizona State, recently got a huge bump in pay through arbitration, he admits he could do without the constant fight to stay in the rotation.

“It’s good because it brings out competition, but it would also be nice to have the feeling of not having to fight for your spot,” Leake said. “But we’ve got a good club and it’s a good opportunity.”

After making just over a half-million dollars last year, Leake agreed to a one-year deal worth a little more than $3 million just days before reporting to the team’s complex.

But with Chapman vying for a spot, there’s little time to relax with his new-found riches.

“It’s what I’ve done the last few years, so it’s nothing different than what I’ve done since I’ve been here,” Leake said. “Every year’s different. You take what you’re given year by year.”

Reds manager Dusty Baker said Thursday he considers Leake one of “six starters,” but later added that toying with a six-person rotation could ruin the rhythm of others like Bronson Arroyo.

“What I told (Leake) is that, you know the toughest years in the big leagues are your third, fourth and fifth years when everybody knows you. They know you’re not getting your breaking ball over, they know you follow a change-up with a fastball,” Baker said. “These guys get to know you, so now it’s up to you to readjust.”

Leake’s stats in 2012 marked a small step back from his previous two years with the club. After putting together a 20-13 record through his first two campaigns, Leake slipped to 8-9 last year, even though he pitched his first two complete games.

Baker said any regression can be difficult for a young pitcher, as fans quickly look for a change.

“There’s no room for a marginal or bad year, people just want to take you off to the side,” the manager said. “Every pitcher I know has had a bad year or two. Steve Carlton lost 20 games. Nolan Ryan. Maddux.”

Baker went so far as to call Leake a “Maddux type,” and said he placed a call to the four-time Cy Young Award winner to help facilitate a conversation between the two.

And as for having his arbitration case behind him, Leake said it’s a non-factor.

“You block it all out. It’s something that’s part of the gig,” he said. “You’re fortunate when you get to arbitration. It’s more of a happy time than feeling like you have to deal with something bad.”

No love on Valentine's Day: With an earlier-that-normal spring schedule, manager Dusty Baker missed being in his San Francisco-area home with his wife, Melissa, for the first time since becoming the Reds manager.

Well, missed might be a strong word. Baker admitted it’s not exactly a day he circles on his calendar.

“Usually, I like to come the day after Valentine’s Day,” Baker said. “Usually, they give you a card, and you probably don’t even read it. You speed read. It means more to them than to us, I think.”

Arroyo ill, Cairo added: Although there isn't any injury news from camp, Bronson Arroyo has been dealing with illness, and although he showed up on Thursday morning, Baker said he'd been "trying to keep the flu from getting in the clubhouse." As for the rest of the roster, all the players are required to take part in Friday's workout, although most had arrived earlier. The full pitching staff is on the field, although Nick Masset is still not throwing from a mound. While others worked with catchers, Masset soft tossed on a separate field Wednesday as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery.

The team announced that former Reds infielder Miguel Cairo has joined the baseball operations staff as special assistant to GM Walt Jocketty. Cairo played just shy of 1,500 games with nine different teams over 17 seasons.

“He was a leader for us on the field and in the clubhouse and over a very successful career earned a tremendous amount of respect within the baseball community,” Jocketty said. “Miguel was a big part of our success the last three years. Our younger players will benefit from his work ethic and experience.”