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CINNATI -- The good news for the Reds is that they can still punch a ticket to the National League Championship Series with a win behind Mike Leake on Wednesday.
The bad news is that Leake is on the active roster at all.
Leake replaced the injured Johnny Cueto on Wednesday morning, after approval by Major League Baseball. It will be Leake who starts Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Giants at 4:07 p.m. ET on TBS. The move means Cueto, felled by a right oblique strain, will not be eligible to pitch again until the World Series -- if the Reds can get that far.
"It was a very, very tough decision," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "But our medical staff felt, at best, that Johnny might be able to pitch one game in the next series if we get there. So we thought the importance of today's game and the rest of the series, versus the one game next time, outweighed that. It's a tough thing to have a potential Cy Young guy out of your rotation."
"It would be cool if I do get a chance to help them out," Leake said Tuesday night. "It's what I've been waiting for."
The Reds alerted MLB on Tuesday night that a request to remove Cueto could be coming. After the league received the formal paperwork, it consulted with team medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek.
"They just gave the approval at 11:30 a.m.," Jocketty said.
Manager Dusty Baker was hoping to avoid an NLDS Game 4 altogether on Tuesday afternoon, when his Reds entered Game 3 with a chance to sweep away the Giants. But San Francisco stayed alive in the series with a 10-inning, 2-1 win, forcing the teams to return to Great American Ball Park at least one more time in the series.
"This guy stays ready," Baker said of Leake on Wednesday morning. "We just have to adjust. It's quite a blow. But at the same time, you hope Leake steps up and he pitches well."
Leake posted a 4.58 ERA in 30 starts during the regular season. He was left off the Reds' original NLDS roster because the best-of-five format required only four starters.
At least, that was the thinking. The Reds were forced to alter their thinking after Cueto was hurt eight pitches into his start in Game 1 in San Francisco. Since then, pitching coach Bryan Price has been preparing Leake for a potential start.
Now, Leake will try to help the Reds through their first bit of adversity. He will have to buck history to do so, as players in the the Giants' Game 4 lineup are a combined 23-for-58 (.397) in their careers against Leake.
"He's just a competitive kid," Price said "I don't think that he ever shut himself off to thinking that he was going to pitch at some point in time during the postseason."
Said Baker: "He was studying the charts, he was looking at the game, he was in the video room. That's Mike Leake."
In picking Leake, the Reds opted to stay away from Mat Latos, who worked four huge innings of emergency relief in Game 1 of the series on short rest, and would have had to come back early again. With Leake joining the fray, the Reds plan to have Latos start the potential Game 5 on his regular schedule.
Leake was the least heralded of a Reds starting rotation that made every single one of its starts as scheduled -- joining this year's Giants as one of only nine teams in Major League history to produce five pitchers with at least 30 starts apiece. It's the first Reds staff since 1943 with four pitchers who each finished with at least 200 innings.
Now, Leake will try to help the group through its first bit of adversity.
"We've done it all year," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "We've had guys get hurt, and we've had other guys step up. I have a lot of confidence in all our guys. That's how it's going to have to be. I don't know how [Cueto] is feeling. Hopefully he'll be back soon, but until then, we're going to have to go with what we've got."