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CIN@STL: Matheny on Hamilton, Leake's performance

ST. LOUIS -- In their first five games against the Reds this season, the Cardinals stalled Billy Hamilton by neutralizing his biggest asset. He couldn't run because he couldn't get on.

However, the nuisance the Cardinals feared Hamilton could be atop Cincinnati's lineup came to life on Wednesday, as the speedy outfielder tallied more total bases than the entire Cardinals' offense. That left St. Louis starter Shelby Miller to deal with a constant disruption while getting nary the run support or bailout that Lance Lynn had a night earlier.

The Cardinals' chance at a sweep in front of an afternoon crowd of 41,137 fans at Busch Stadium evaporated with it, leaving the club heading into an off-day on the heels of a 4-0 loss in which it recorded just four hits. St. Louis has now scored a combined three runs in its four losses this season.

"I do believe there is obviously more in our tank offensively," manager Mike Matheny said. "We've done a lot of things right, some things wrong, and things we know we want to get better at."

The Cardinals had done well to control Hamilton before Wednesday, leaving him 2-for-22 without a run scored. Miller even worked around Hamilton's leadoff triple in the first inning to keep the game scoreless. It was the start of a string of eight consecutive outs, positioning Miller to keep pace with Reds starter Mike Leake, who was also sailing.

Eventually, though, Miller hit a snag -- starting when Hamilton next came to the plate.

Miller stranded two in the third and erased another with a fourth-inning double play. He would not, however, get out of that inning entirely unscathed.

Chris Heisey extended the frame with a single, and in his second start since coming off the disabled list, catcher Devin Mesoraco connected for a two-run homer.

"It was where we wanted it," Miller said of the tattooed fastball. "He just put a good swing on it."

Mesoraco said afterward that he was anticipating a fastball.

It was the fourth home run allowed by Miller in 12 innings, which combined have accounted for five of the eight runs he's allowed. Last season, Miller served up 20 home runs in 31 starts.

Hamilton then used his speed -- he singled, stole second and scored from third on a shallow flyout to right fielder Jon Jay -- to pad the Reds' lead an inning later.

"He scored on a sacrifice fly, basically, to second base," remarked Matt Carpenter afterward.

"That's the first time I've seen that," added Yadier Molina. "He's so fast. Every time he's on base he's going to be dangerous. … Any time you see a guy with that kind of speed, he can change the game."

And from Hamilton's perspective?

"When the fly ball went up in the air, [third-base coach Steve] Smith was like, 'I want to see how fast you really are,'" Hamilton said. "I was like, 'OK, that's giving me the key point to go.' He didn't say go, but I knew I had to go."

Miller, now 0-2 to begin his sophomore season, didn't find the entire afternoon to be forgettable. He and Molina agreed that his fastball command had improved from a rocky start in Pittsburgh last week, and Miller was armed with a decent curveball. He struck out Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto consecutively on that pitch in the first inning.

Miller had trouble complementing those two pitches with much more, though. His cutter wasn't sharp, and he threw only a few changeups. He did retire Hamilton in the sixth to strand a pair of runners on the corners and keep a then-three-run deficit from swelling.

Miller bookended his six-inning start by getting out of jams in which the Reds put a runner on third with no outs.

"We're getting somewhere," he said.

"I thought he was better than how the result was overall," Matheny added. "We just didn't get a lot of help."

Leake faced two batters over the minimum in his eight-inning, 100-pitch start. Three of the four baserunners he allowed were erased on double plays. Jay, making the spot start for Allen Craig, hit into two of them.

Leake followed the other two hits -- both two-out knocks -- with strikeouts. Only one baserunner advanced as far as second in what was Leake's first win over the Cardinals since Aug. 25, 2012.

The Reds lost all three of Leake's starts against St. Louis last season.

"We've had a chance to face him quite a bit, and that's probably the best I've seen him in terms of command," Carpenter said. "He didn't leave hardly any balls over the plate. He kept the ball down, had his sinker working, his cutter was working. When we did find a way to get a baserunner, he would be able to get a ground ball and turn a double play. He was as good as I've seen him."

With the performance, Leake tied his longest career scoreless outing -- done twice previously, both times on the road.

"He was very, very good," Mesoraco said of Leake. "He didn't get ahead of as many guys as he typically does, but he was able to get some early outs with some easy ground balls. … He was a lot of fun to catch today."

The Cardinals' offense has opened the season part hot, part cold. It has averaged more than five runs a game in its five wins, but the club's run total through nine games (29) is significantly lower than the total during the same span last season (56).

It hasn't helped that the team has hit .181 with runners in scoring position.

"We have a long run of games after this," said Matheny, whose club begins a stretch of 20 games in 20 days on Friday. "And hopefully [we can] throw some good consistent offensive approaches together and hope our pitchers keep doing what they've been doing."

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