All spring, the Braves looked forward to an opening day that would mean more because of what occurred months ago. They are the defending World Series champions, and the organization is rightfully honoring them as such.

The Braves introduced the 2022 team, complete with staffers, to the home fans, who roared as they heard each name. The coaches and players enjoyed the scene, even if they knew they would soon need to turn the page.

“It was awesome,” third baseman Austin Riley said of the pregame festivities. “You get the big American flag out in center field with the flyover. It gives you chills. It was awesome to be back home.”

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The Braves understand this is a new season, though.

It began with a 6-3 loss to the Reds on Thursday at Truist Park. The Braves are 0-1.

Here are five observations on the game:

1. Max Fried allowed five runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second career opening-day start.

You need to take a closer look at this one for full context, though.

According to Baseball Savant, four of those eight hits left the bat at less than 70 mph. For reference: Baseball Savant defines hard-hit balls as those that leave the bat at 95 mph or faster.

The Reds didn’t hit Fried particularly hard. But they put the ball in play, which was enough.

“It’s baseball, it happens,” Fried said. “Sometimes hard-hit balls get caught and sometimes soft balls find some grass. At this point, you just try to control what you can control. They went up there with a pretty good approach where they could stay inside the ball, and found some holes.”

Fried, who threw 84 pitches, struck out five batters. He only issued one walk. He pitched better than his line would indicate.

The Reds first scored in the second inning when Tyler Stephenson lined a single into left. Marcell Ozuna’s arm isn’t what it used to be, so a base runner scored without a play at the plate. The Reds scored two more in the third.

And Fried’s line took another hit when Collin McHugh served up a three-run shot in the sixth.

Combined ShapeCaption
F-16 Eagles fly over before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

F-16 Eagles fly over before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Combined ShapeCaption
F-16 Eagles fly over before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

2. The Braves on Thursday were painfully close to flipping the narrative. They hit three balls that could have flown out of the park in different conditions. They were oh-so-close.

Ozuna gave a ball a ride to the track in the first inning, but it died at the wall.

In the second, Travis d’Arnaud lifted one that went to the wall.

In the fifth, Eddie Rosario hit one to the warning track.

Atlanta scored one run on three hits before Riley’s two-run home run in the eighth inning. Manger Brian Snitker credited Reds starter Tyler Mahle, who pitched five shutout innings and struck out seven Braves.

Overall, the Braves had four hits. Riley collected three of them.

“I wouldn’t call it a struggle,” Snitker said of his club’s offensive performance.

3. All spring, people talked about the Braves’ bullpen as if it were unbeatable. In fairness, the unit looked great, especially because general manager Alex Anthopoulos signed Kenley Jansen and McHugh.

Thursday provided us a reminder: This is still baseball, and nothing is ever perfect.

In the sixth inning, with two outs and runners on base, Snitker lifted Fried. He called on McHugh. He got two strikes on the Reds’ Brandon Drury, but Drury hit a ball 378 feet to left field for a three-run home run. Suddenly, the Reds led by five runs.

This is nothing to overreact about this early in the season. The Braves, of course, cannot expect perfection from their bullpen.

But they needed it on Thursday night, with the bats held mostly in checks.

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Spencer Strider (65) pitches during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Spencer Strider (65) pitches during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Combined ShapeCaption
Spencer Strider (65) pitches during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

4. As opening day neared, Spencer Strider wasn’t sure if he would make the team. He knew rosters would expand to 28. He knew the Braves needed someone who would eat innings.

He’s grateful they gave him the opportunity.

He showed that with two perfect innings in Thursday’s loss. He faced six batters and struck out five of them.

“It’s hard to describe,” Strider said of how it felt when the bullpen phone rang for him. “It just takes over you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been stretching or if you were completely caught off guard. All of the sudden, your heart rate spikes and you hop on the mound, you’re ready to go.”

He threw 10 pitches that registered at least 100 mph on the radar gun (if slightly rounding up from, say, 99.8s). His fastball averaged 99.3 mph.

Does he have more in the tank?

“I think so,” Strider said with a smile. “It’s a long season. I’ve got to save those big bullets for the end, hopefully.”

The Braves trailed by five runs when he entered, but he was terrific. He provided a positive on a night when there were not many of them.

In spring training, Strider said the Braves saw him as a starting pitcher. But as we’re seeing now, it became clear he belonged on this roster.

His two dominant innings were a great start.

“Been working on the fastball up,” he said. “That was really my bread and butter at all levels last year. My fastball velocity, the vertical metrics on it, that’s where it plays the best. I’ve been trying to work through the growing pains and work the rust off this spring training and find the rhythm again with that pitch, and really executed it well tonight.”

Reds 6, Braves 3

5. Opening day is the only day when we can discuss the season’s “firsts.” So here are a few.

The first at-bat: Fried struck out Jonathan India.

The first hit: Riley singled into right field in his first at-bat of the season.

The first run: Rosario, when he went from second to home because Reds third baseman Drury’s throw to first hit Riley.

The first home run: Riley mashed a two-run bomb in the bottom of the eighth to bring the Braves within three runs.

Stat to know

4 -- The Braves have lost four consecutive opening-day games. Since moving to Atlanta in 1966, the club has gone 24-33 on opening day, including 12-12 when opening at home.

Quotable

“Definitely not worried about Max at all. He’s one of those guys that’s going to go back probably tonight and start on the homework for his next start. He gets after it. You can’t say enough about his preparation and stuff like that. I know he’ll be anxious to get the ball next go around.” -- Riley on Fried’s rough start

Up next

The series continues Friday night at 7:20 at Truist Park. Charlie Morton starts for the Braves against the Reds’ Reiver Sanmartin.