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03/17/11 3:21 PM ET

Cordero looks sharp in spring outings

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds closer Francisco Cordero is having the kind of spring that should be encouraging. Cordero's 1-2-3 sixth inning on Wednesday against the Royals gave him four consecutive scoreless innings in his last four outings -- the final three being perfect.

Cordero blew eight saves in 48 chances last season and was prone to walks and hits. This spring, he's come in trimmer and tried to sharpen his mechanics.

"He's probably the most scrutinized guy here," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "As closers go, they get the wrath of everybody when they're here. Some day, when they're gone, people wish they were back. You have to be careful of what you wish for. Replacing them is very hard in this game."

Reds still searching for fifth starter

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's getting down to the nitty gritty for the battle to gain the final two Reds rotation spots. In his latest opportunity, Mike Leake performed well on Thursday against the Indians.

Leake provided four scoreless innings with three hits, a walk and two strikeouts.

"Leake threw the ball very well," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Leake picked up five of his outs on ground balls but also had a few hard-hit liners come up as fortunate outs.

"The ones they put in the air were the ones I missed a little bit," Leake said. "The ones on the ground were where I wanted them."

Leake, 23, is vying for a rotation spot against Homer Bailey and Travis Wood. Bailey has a leg up because he is out of options, and Wood would be the lone lefty if he makes the club.

Baker has made a point of stressing that players are not being evaluated solely on their spring performances. Track record is also taken into consideration, and Leake stormed out of the gate last season and won eight games, most of them during his strong first half.

"I hope they don't bypass it and not look at it," Leake said. "Nothing is guaranteed. I'm still trying to prove myself and show them what I did in the beginning of last year."

Leake has a 6.23 ERA through four spring games, including three starts. In his previous two outings, totaling seven innings, he gave up eight earned runs and 16 hits.

"It's hard to put expectations on real young guys with a short track record," Baker said. "But his track record is pretty successful, all things considered."

No subtext to Bailey's Minors assignment

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Instead of taking the trip to Mesa, Ariz., to face the Cubs on Friday, Reds right-hander Homer Bailey will work a Minor League game.

It has nothing to do with the Reds not wanting Bailey to face a division rival in spring. It has more to do with maximizing opportunities for the pitching staff.

"He's working on some things," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We're sending Corky [Miller] over there to catch him. There's no reason -- we still have a lot of pitchers over here, and we're running out of innings. We have to make some cuts here soon to get guys ready. They're in the process. Whenever you have this many, and this many of quality, there will come a time in spring when you run out of innings. It's easy when guys are going one inning and two innings. Now, starters are starting to stretch out to four, five and six innings."

Reds pitchers begin hitting in spring games

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first time this spring, the Reds' lineup did not feature a designated hitter. Starting pitcher Mike Leake batted for himself against the Indians. Leake lined out in his only at-bat.

"If an American League club wants to use it, they can," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's time for the pitchers to get some at-bats and live bunting. They've been hitting a lot in the cage and bunting a lot. There's nothing like live pitching to hit and bunt. They're a big part of our offense."

Reliever Dontrelle Willis fared better than Leake when he ripped a triple off Fausto Carmona into the right-field corner in the fifth inning. After hustling around the bases, Willis made a head-first slide into third base. It was a good test of the right ankle he sprained on Saturday.

"If he makes the team, he might be in that long-relief role. He always could hit," Baker said. "Him and Leake can both hit. I want Willis to get some at-bats in case in the season we leave him in there. He can still run and hit. He threw the ball well, too."

Worth noting

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the Reds wore green caps in their game against Cleveland. ... Thursday's attendance of 5,181 fans at Goodyear Ballpark was the highest home total for the Reds this spring.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.