CINCINNATI – The few caustic signs in the stands weren't a bother. Mike Leake was glad just to be back on the mound and, for a few hours, away from his troubles.
Better yet, he got a win.
Leake got razzed by some fans during his first appearance since his shoplifting arrest, but ignored the handwritten signs and gave the Cincinnati Reds a much-needed boost Thursday, going seven innings for a 7-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I was glad for him," said manager Dusty Baker, who pulled Leake close for a hug when he left the field. "I was proud of him, and we needed it badly. That's as big a win as we've had since opening day."
Leake (3-0) led the Reds to only their second win in eight games. The defending NL Central champs had fallen to .500 for the first time since May 8. Leake allowed three runs and fanned six in his longest outing of the season.
Leake has been told my his lawyer not to talk about his court case. Asked how he's doing mentally, he said, "I'll be better once it's all done. Right now, I've just got to eat it and go out there and do what I can for the team.
"It was nice to go out there and kind of erase some things and pitch."
The 23-year-old righty was the Reds' top draft pick last June. He went directly to the majors last season and helped the Reds get to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Police reports said Leake removed the tags from six American Rag T-shirts at a Macy's store downtown on Monday afternoon and tried to leave without paying for them. The shirts were valued at $59.88.
At a court hearing the next day, his lawyer asked that the case be moved into a diversion program for first-time offenders. In a statement, Leake apologized to fans and the team "for this distraction."
Baker considered skipping his turn in the rotation, but decided Leake wouldn't let the arrest distract from his pitching preparations. He talked to Leake the last few days to gauge his mood.
"Usually you can look in a person's eyes and read that person at that moment. His eyes were gentle eyes," Baker said. "His eyes were gentle to the point of pain and embarrassment."
Baker also considered the reaction he'd get from fans, and decided it was probably best to let him get his first start at home rather than face much worse taunting on the road.
A few had fun at his expense,
Leake got a typical round of applause when he came to bat for the first time and grounded into a double play that ended the first inning. One fan in the left field stands held up a sign that said, "Mike Leake We Gave You The Bunt Sign Not The Steal Sign!" Another sign said, "Steal Us A Win Leake."
Two fans sitting 10 rows behind the home dugout wore Bengals helmets — the NFL team had a series of player arrests a few years back.
"I didn't know if they were going to support me or not," Leake said. "For the most part, I think they were very nice about it."
Leake didn't get off a a good start, although that's been the norm in Cincinnati lately. Brian Roberts doubled and scored on Stephen Drew's single for a 1-0 lead — the fifth game in a row that a Reds starter allowed at least one run in the opening inning.
The Reds have given up 23 runs in the first inning, the most in the majors.
Daniel Hudson (0-4) was far worse in the bottom half of the inning, throwing 37 pitches while facing nine batters. He walked Jay Bruce and Paul Janish with the bases loaded to force in runs, and gave up a two-run single by Miguel Cairo. Joey Votto hit his third homer in the fifth, helping the Reds pull away.
Hudson also has been struggling in the first inning.
"I can't keep putting my team in a deficit and expect them to fight their way out of it," Hudson said. "I've got to fight through this. I'm extremely frustrated. That's three straight games — four straight, really — where I've struggled in the first inning. That's unacceptable."
Francisco Cordero came on with a four-run lead in the ninth and gave up a homer by Drew, a single and a walk before getting Russell Branyan to ground out.
NOTES: Arizona 3B Melvin Mora missed his third game with a sore left foot. ... Roberts, who took Mora's place in the lineup, has a career-high eight-game hitting streak. ... Hudson gave up seven runs in 5 1-3 innings, raising his ERA to 5.92. ... The Reds have been outscored 23-16 in the first inning. ... Baker gave 3B Scott Rolen a day off, saying he looked slow the last couple of days. ... The Reds went 2-5 on their homestand, leaving them 7-6 at Great American Ball Park this season.