New-look Reds topple defending champs

April 8th, 2022

ATLANTA -- The Reds showed on Opening Day that this is not their 2021 lineup. Maybe that could turn out to be a good thing.

Consternation from fans was understandable after cost-cutting Cincinnati parted with a big chunk of last year's offense. But the 2022 version of the lineup provided encouragement against a tough Braves pitching staff on Thursday. What's not to like about tallying a 6-3 win over the defending World Series champions?

"It kind of feels like a fresh start," Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer said. "We lost some guys that have been around here for a long time, some of my best friends. You’ve got guys in here who are hungry, want to make a name for themselves and have fun playing. That’s what we have in this clubhouse."

Gone from 2021 are Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez via trades and Nick Castellanos as a free agent. They combined for 89 home runs and 243 runs last season. The only hitter in Thursday’s lineup who had more than 25 homers last season was Joey Votto, who hit 36.

Against Atlanta, the new-look lineup showed it can produce – albeit differently.

Cincinnati strung together single after single until finally getting the big hit that had been missing. A two-out rally in the sixth inning was punctuated by Brandon Drury's three-run home run that put the game out of reach.

"I think we can surprise some people," Drury said. "I look at our lineup and it’s pretty dangerous, to me. I think there are some guys that can perform better than they have. I’m looking forward to the season.”

After Braves lefty Max Fried looked dominant in the first inning, the Reds found a way. Their first eight hits of the game were singles against Fried, including Farmer's two-out RBI knock to left field in the second inning.

Tommy Pham's walk vs. Fried in the third inning had the bases loaded and no outs. Votto lined an RBI hit into right field, and Tyler Stephenson's sacrifice fly followed to make it a 3-0 game.

"Singles. Walks. The Pham walk [after an] 0-2 [count]. A lot of doing whatever it takes to score," Reds manager David Bell said. "I know it was one night. Against that team and that pitcher and how he started out, staying steady and not panicking and trusting what we’ve been doing – really good night for our offense against a lot of good pitching."

It was a 3-1 lead in the sixth against Fried when Mike Moustakas' roller up the middle skipped off shortstop Dansby Swanson's glove for a hit. Farmer added another single to right field before Atlanta turned to reliever Collin McHugh. His first batter, Drury, lifted a 2-2 slider that carried over the left-field fence.

Drury was signed to a Minor League contract on March 21 after Spring Training was well underway. As a non-roster player, he earned a job in camp. Bell put him in the starting lineup at third base, batting ninth, and used Moustakas as the designated hitter.

“I was thinking today coming to the field, ‘Man, I’m in the Opening Day lineup today and I was sitting at home as spring had already started.' It’s kind of cool," Drury said.

Drury committed a throwing error in the third inning that scored an unearned run against Tyler Mahle in an otherwise superb five-inning start for the victory. Mahle, who allowed three hits while walking two and striking out seven, stopped the rally by catching Marcell Ozuna's 104.5 mph liner back to the mound.

"We took care of business," Mahle said. "We got an early lead and kept it."

Reds players stood on the top step of the visitors’ dugout watching the pregame festivities as a sold-out crowd of 40,545 celebrated the Braves' 2021 World Series championship. Then they went on the field for the game and spoiled their fun.

"I think we were feeling the adrenaline tonight, especially a great Opening Day for the Braves and celebrating their World Series," Farmer said. "Clutch hitting is big in baseball. The more we can do that, the more games we’ll win."