Mike Leake has never spent a day in the minor leagues.

The Reds right-hander hopes Tuesday night is another step toward keeping it that way.

"That's the goal, to never go there, Leake said. "I've got to start off on a good foot and prove that I belong."

Leake makes his 2011 debut when the Reds (3-0) play Houston (0-3) at 7:10 p.m., to start a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.

Leake last year became only the 21st player since the baseball draft began (1965) to play in the majors without appearing in a minor league game. Leake was the Reds' No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, out of Arizona State University.

Leake was 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA as a rookie last year, when he faded after a fast start. Leake was shut down in late August with right shoulder fatigue, and he was not on the Reds' postseason roster.

This spring, Leake appeared the odd man out in the battle for the final two rotation spots. Homer Bailey (out of options) and Travis Wood (sole left-hander among the top candidates) were perceived to have the edge. Then, arm ailments for both Bailey and Johnny Cueto assured Leake would begin the year in the rotation.