Kevin Gausman #45 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after being taken out of the game in the sixth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds defeated the Braves 7-6. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Persistent problem: Braves walk nine in loss to Reds

Once down 3-0, the Braves rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth; only for the Reds to score four times in the bottom of the frame, pushing them to a 7-6 win in the series opener Tuesday. The Braves walked nine hitters, dropping them to 2-2 on their six-game Ohio trip.

“We just walked too many,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We walked nine. We’re lucky we’re even in the game if we walk that many guys.”

The sixth-inning shenanigans began with one out, when Jose Iglesias reached when he shot a ball through Josh Donaldson’s grasp. Derek Dietrich singled before Jose Peraza doubled both runners home, giving Cincinnati a 5-4 lead.

That was it for starter Kevin Gausman, who was charged with five runs on eight hits in his 5-1/3 innings. In what’s become a repetitive theme, the game conditions didn’t get any better when the reliever group entered.

Jesse Biddle has taken a beating in the past week, plagued by an inability to throw strikes. He was the first arm ushered in after Gausman and immediately walked Joey Votto. He intentionally walked Eugenio Suarez to load the bases, an effort to set up a double play. In the ensuing seven-pitch battle, Phillip Ervin drew a walk that plated the Reds’ sixth run. 

“We can’t walk the bases loaded,” Snitker said. “That’s not healthy. You may get out of it once, but it’s just not conducive to being successful.”

Wes Parsons replaced Biddle, who didn’t record an out. It continued the troubling trend Biddle has fostered in the early season. Three times he’s faced a hitter with the bases loaded, and twice he’s issued a base on balls. 

In his past seven appearances, Biddle has walked eight in 4-2/3 innings. His walks per nine have ballooned to 7.15.

“I’m just trying to figure out the right spot to try to get him some confidence and get him going,” Snitker said. “And I don’t know what that is right now.”

The Reds’ Yasiel Puig, who homered earlier in the night, tacked on an all-important insurance run with a deep sacrifice fly. That run became the game-winner.

The Braves got a run back in the seventh, when Ender Inciarte came home on Charlie Culberson’s double. They pulled within a run on Dansby Swanson’s eight-inning RBI-double. He was left stranded at third when Inciarte grounded to second. 

Johan Camargo, waiting on deck, could’ve replaced Inciarte to hit against the left-handed Amir Garrett, but Snitker rolled with his center fielder due to his 4-for-6 (with a homer) track record against the southpaw. 

Despite Chad Sobotka walking two Reds in the bottom of the inning, the Braves escaped the eighth in just a one-run hole.

Matt Joyce’s lead-off double in the ninth put the tying run in scoring position. Ozzie Albies attempted to bunt him over to third – a decision that was the player’s – but popped out in foul ground. Donaldson gave the ball a deep ride but fell short of a homer. Freeman grounded out on a rocket to first. And Joyce was left stranded at third, ending another Braves’ comeback bid.

The Braves fell to 11-11, but many of their losses have seemingly followed a similar script. The walks pile up, the opponent’s lead grows, and the Braves’ offensive effort almost bails them out. In some wins, the offense did overcome its bullpen.

“Believe me, we want to win every game, but it’s April,” Freeman said. “We’re 11-11. These guys are learning as they go. We have a lot of young guys in that bullpen with great arms, great stuff. We have to keep putting them out there and they’re going to come through. We believe in them. Hopefully we’ll get a lead tomorrow and they’ll shut it down for us tomorrow.”

Mike Soroka and Julio Teheran will start the remaining games in Cincinnati. The Braves will oppose former National League East mainstay Tanner Roark on Wednesday and Luis Castillo, No. 2 in NL ERA, in the finale.

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