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PIT@CIN: Leake strikes out seven over six frames

Reds manager Dusty Baker wasn't worried after three straight losses interrupted a stretch in which his club had won 22 of 25.

"We'll get it together and make another nice run," Baker said after Tuesday's defeat to the Brewers. "That's why you run the race, and that's why you play the whole season."

The Reds are still looking for that next run after losing to the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon, their fourth straight defeat. Cincinnati's lead over the Pirates in the National League Central slipped to two and a half games after Pittsburgh's win over the D-backs on Wednesday night.

The Reds will look to get back on track beginning Thursday, when they open a four-game series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.

The teams haven't met since May 3, but they will face each other in eight of their next 11 games. The Reds lead the season series, 3-2.

The Cubs are kicking off a seven-game homestand while dragging along a string of eight straight losses, but there is a source of excitement for the Chicago faithful. This series will mark the Wrigley Field debuts of a trio of rookies: outfielder Brett Jackson, third baseman Josh Vitters and pitcher Brooks Raley, who is scheduled to start on Sunday.

"The fans are probably curious to look at the guys who all the hype is about," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "I would think they're very excited to see all these guys. There's no mystery now as to what's going on with the team. As a fan myself, you're always like, 'I want to see that guy play.' I would think they're probably champing at the bit to see some of these guys, too."

Thursday's opener will feature Cincinnati's Mike Leake on the mound, opposing Chicago's Chris Volstad.

Leake (4-7, 4.51 ERA) has posted a 7.29 ERA over his last four starts, surrendering 29 hits and five home runs in 21 innings. On Saturday against the Pirates, the right-hander tied a season high with seven strikeouts while walking only one, but he gave up four runs in six innings. He took a no-decision in a game the Reds eventually won.

"I'm not worried about wins and losses, I'm just glad I kept us in the game today," Leake said after the game. "I would have liked to come out of there with a one-run lead, but it's baseball, and stuff like that is going to happen. We have one of the best, if not the best [bullpen], so you feel comfortable going into those last innings."

Volstad (0-8, 7.22 ERA) is riding a 21-start winless streak going back to last July 10, but his outing on Saturday against the Dodgers showed progress. The righty was making his first big league appearance since July 3, and his second since May 17, following the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.

Volstad was outdueled by Clayton Kershaw, but he held Los Angeles to two runs on six hits in seven innings. Of his 10 starts as a Cub, it was the first in which Volstad went more than six innings or allowed fewer than three runs.

"Maybe it was the type of mix," Volstad said. "I think the quality of pitches I was throwing was the difference. Instead of middle of the plate, thigh high, it's closer to the edges, maybe knee high and stuff like that. It was sliders in the dirt, instead of spinning up there."

Reds: Mesoraco slated for return
Devin Mesoraco has been on the seven-day disabled list after suffering a concussion, but the catcher will be activated on Thursday to start the first two games of the Cubs series, according to Baker.

Mesoraco was eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, but Baker wanted Dioner Navarro to catch Mat Latos and face Milwaukee's Randy Wolf.

Mesoraco has played in 46 games this season after a brief stint with the Reds last season. The 24-year-old is hitting .221 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and a .678 OPS.

Cincinnati's other catcher, Ryan Hanigan, will be behind the plate for the last two games at Wrigley Field.

• Joey Votto, recovering from July 17 surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, said Wednesday that he's "not ready to play yet," but the first baseman will travel with the team to Chicago.

Cubs: Prospects getting a chance to shine
The home debuts of Jackson, Vitters and Raley come with the Cubs in the midst of a rebuilding year and looking to find out which players will be a part of their future core. Sveum believes his recent callups could fit that description.

Jackson and Vitters in particular have been the subject of much hype during their time in the Minors. Both are former first-round Draft picks, with MLB.com ranking them as the organization's first- and 11th-best prospects, respectively.

• The Cubs are 27-24 at home, compared with 16-42 on the road.

Worth noting
• Volstad gave up six runs in five innings against the Reds on April 20. One day later, Leake surrendered five runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs.

• Alfonso Soriano is 1-for-13 (.077) against Leake, while Darwin Barney is 6-for-12 (.500).

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