OF defense puts on clinic in one-run defeat

Gutierrez settles in for solid start after rocky first frame

April 10th, 2022

ATLANTA -- The Reds have two one-run losses in their first three games, but have twice gotten decent pitching performances from their starters and stellar outfield defense throughout. If that trend continues, losses could become wins as the season progresses.

Starter Vladimir Gutierrez labored in the opening inning, giving up two runs that cost him and the Reds during a 2-1 loss to the Braves on Saturday at Truist Park. But the talk of the game was three fantastic outfield plays that kept Atlanta from adding on.

"The defense is so important and our guys work really hard at it," Reds manager David Bell said.

Gutierrez's 2022 debut for the Reds resembled many of his rookie year starts. He kept his team very much in the game on a chilly evening -- once he got into a groove. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, Gutierrez also continued a previous trend of not being crisp in the first inning.

A pair of one-out singles in the bottom of the first inning set up Marcell Ozuna's RBI double down the left-field line. Ozzie Albies added a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0. Overall, Gutierrez gave up six hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings and 76 pitches, while striking out four.

Last season, Gutierrez had a 4.74 ERA in 22 starts, but an 8.18 ERA in the first inning.

"After the first inning, I felt really comfortable," Gutierrez said via translator Jorge Merlos. "Those first couple of pitches that I threw were just hung in the zone. They were able to hit it where the defense wasn’t. In the second inning, I was able to make my own adjustments and then from there on, I felt pretty good after that."

In the third inning, after a leadoff walk to Matt Olson, the outfield helped Gutierrez.

Ozuna zinged a one-out double past third baseman Mike Moustakas down the left-field line. Jake Fraley retrieved it quickly from the corner and fired to shortstop Kyle Farmer, who made a perfect one-hop throw to catcher Aramis Garcia, who made a good tag to get Olson at the plate.

"If the Reds were smart, they'd show that video to all of their Minor League teams, because that was about as good a relay as you can do," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

"On the first one, I thought Farmer made an incredible throw. It was as perfect a throw as you can make," Garcia said.

Olson wasn't done being cut down. In the seventh inning, after he hit a two-out double against Justin Wilson and Austin Riley walked against Ryan Hendrix, Ozuna knocked another base hit into left field. This time, it was Aristides Aquino who charged the rolling ball and threw a one-bounce strike to the plate that nailed Olson.

Aquino's throw registered at 101.6 mph and was the hardest-tracked outfield assist by a Reds player -- and sixth hardest in MLB -- since Statcast began keeping track in 2015.

"Our outfielders practice that a lot, throwing guys out at the plate," Bell said. "We really value keeping that run off the board, and those plays give us a shot to win."

Olson said something to Garcia -- his former A's teammate -- after the first out at the plate.

"If anybody wrote in the scouting report from Oakland that I was fast, they lied," Olson said. "But that was the right play. I'm going as hard as I can. It was a couple good throws. But no, I don't think I've ever been thrown out at the plate twice."

The pair of assists sandwiched another great catch by Nick Senzel. With one out in the sixth inning, Alex Dickerson hit a deep drive to right-center field. Senzel ran it down and made the catch as he fell on the warning track.

"That was incredible. Behind home plate I had a good view of it, and I honestly didn’t think he was going to get there. It was an incredible play," Garcia said. "He came out of nowhere. [Next batter Dansby] Swanson came up to the plate and was impressed with that catch."

Statcast gave Senzel a 5 percent probability of making the catch, as he covered 84 feet with a 28.2 ft/sec sprint speed. He also made two sterling catches in center field during Friday's 7-6 Reds loss.

But Saturday's grab perhaps surpassed them.

"We could really go around the whole field, but the play Senzel made was incredible," Bell said. "It was one of the best plays I've seen."