By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — No Billy Hamilton, no Scott Schebler and most of all, a batting practice machine disguised as a starting pitcher made for a terribly long day Sunday afternoon for the Cincinnati Reds in scorching Great American Ball Park.
The Reds’ offensive firepower was expected to be minimized because Hamilton and Schebler were spectators due to matching left shoulder sprains.
They were barely missed, though, as the Reds pounded out 12 hits and scored eight runs, including two home runs, a triple and five RBI from Zack Cozart.
It wasn’t enough. The Atlanta Braves punched and counter-punched their way to a 13-8 victory to win two of the three games in the series.
WHAT HAMILTON AND SCHEBLER sat and watched made them even more uncomfortable as starting pitcher Amir Garrett, just lifted off the disabled list, was battered, bruised, besmirched and bewildered.
The Braves unleashed a nine-run, three-homer barrage against the lanky left hander in only 2 2/3 innings. Garrett couldn’t find home plate with a tour guide, a GPS and a metal detector.
He kept going to three-ball counts and the Braves either took a walk or hit the ball over the fence — the first two home runs he gave up were on 3-and-2 counts.
THE BRAVES SCORED FIRST in the top of the first on shortstop Cozart’s two-out throwing error, enabling Ender Inciarte to score from second after he singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.
Cozart rectified his rare error in the bottom of the first, following Jose Peraza’s single with a home run down the left field line and a 2-1 Reds lead.
IT LASTED ONLY LONG ENOUGH for the Braves to come to bat in the top of the second. Garrett issued a walk and a home run to Danny Santana on a 3-and-2 pitch. Johan Camargo doubled and Inciarte singled him home for a 4-2 lead.
It all ended in the third for Garrett, a five-run explosion that started with a one-out home run by Matt Adams on a 3-and-2 pitch, his third of the series. When Adams bats, Reds pitchers should roll the ball to home plate. In 163 at bats against the Reds for his Cardinals/Braves career, Adams has 14 home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI.
After Adams homered, Garrett gave up a double and two walks (one intentional) and Inciarte finished Garrett’s deadly day with a three-run home run and the Braves led, 9-2, before the Reds came to bat for the third time.
Jake Buchanan replaced Garrett and he did something the Reds haven’t been able to do lately — get a hit with runners in scoring position.
The Reds were 3 for 17 in Saturday’s 12-inning loss and they were 0 for 5 when Buchanan came to bat in the fourth with one out and runners on third and second.
Buchanan singled, driving in a run with his first major league hit. Cozart lined one to center field and Inciarte missed a diving catch and it zipped past him for a two-run triple, trimming Atlanta’s lead to 9-5.
The Braves extracted a couple of runs off Buchanan and the Reds scored two in the fifth on Arismendy Alcantara’s first home run, a two-run shot, and Cozart’s second home run of the game in the sixth.
ATLANTA CLAMPED THE LID ON it in the top of the ninth with two runs off Blake Wood, including Inciarte’s fifth hit and fifth RBI of the game.
Buchanan ended up pitching 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs and four hits, the longest stint by a Reds relief pitcher since David Holmberg pitched 5 2/3 innings on September 8, 2014 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
COZART’S DAY IS NOTHING more than a continuation of what he has done all year and manager Bryan Price was asked, “I know you might be biased, but is there a better shortstop in baseball than Zack Cozart?”
He quickly said, “I don’t have to be biased. I just have to be realistic. Realistically, nobody is playing the shortstop position any better than he is, without a question.”
Price also is proud of the way his team never lays down the bats and gloves and surrenders when it is down a ton of runs early in the game, like 9-2 by the third inning Sunday.
“The team knows what their daily effort means to this organization and to each other and themselves,” he said. “They have refused to cave in to some of these deficits and shut it down. It hasn’t been part of the DNA of this ballclub. That is admirable beyond words. We’re digging ourselves out of a lot of holes. And you know what? We’ve dug ourselves out a lot of holes and won some ball games.
“That’s the carrot that dangles in from of our guys,” he said. “We have a good offensive club that we can overcome. It’s disheartening to be down four, five, six, seven runs early in the game,” he added. “But we don’t shut it down. We don’t make it easy. We beat up starters and get into the bullpen.”
THEY BEAT UP ATLANTA starter Julio Teheran, making him work hard for his win — only five innings, seven runs and 11 hits.
The hole this time was too deep, but the Reds kept punching after Garrett’s awful start.
“We’re down 9-2 after three and that’s really a large challenge,” said Price. “When Garrett is at his best he works ahead and has a nice mix of pitches for strikes. I thought he was working too hard in that game, just too much effort. He was working too hard for his outs today.”
Garrett admitted as much and thought it was a product of 10 days off while on the disabled list.
“I’m good in the bullpen, but I get into the game and try to do too much,” he said. “It is nothing we can’t fix quick. Coming back from an injury you are trying to see if everything is good. I guess I was trying to do too much instead of letting it flow.”