Braves score six early, cruise past Reds 8-0 in series opener

CINCINNATI – After struggling against a good pitcher they were unfamiliar with Wednesday at Pittsburgh, the Braves on Thursday faced a Reds pitcher who had nothing in common with the Pirates' Gerrit Cole other than being the same age.

David Holmberg never stood a chance.

The Braves chased the Reds left-hander with a five-run third inning, while Julio Teheran pitched six innings of four-hit ball in an 8-0 Atlanta win to open a four-game series at Great American Ball Park.

“It was a good team win,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We came out swinging the bats well, got some runs early, and Julio was awesome again tonight.”

It was the sixth win in seven games for the Braves, who moved to 3-1 on a 10-game road trip and remained seven games behind the streaking Nationals atop the National League East standings.

“It’s a fun offense when they’re clicking, and when we make productive outs and keep the line moving,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves have averaged six runs per game during their 6-1 stretch.

Andrelton Simmons homered in the second inning and Justin Upton had two hits and three RBIs for the Braves, including a two-run single in the third inning when they built a 6-0 lead.

The first four in the batting order reached base 11 times and accounted for six runs and four RBIs: Jason Heyward had two singles and a walk; Phil Gosselin had two hits including a double, and Freeman walked and was twice hit by pitches.

“Yeah, that’s what we’re going to have to do to score runs,” Upton said. “We’re going to have to put guys on, move guys around (the bases) and see if we can plate a few of them.”

Upton, the cleanup hitter, added a sacrifice fly and a walk to go with two hits, giving him a .400 average (16-for-40) with four homers and 18 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak. He’s second in the NL with 84 RBIs.

“We’ve got to get on base for the guys that are in the middle of the lineup,” No. 3 hitter Freeman said. “Justin’s just been awesome. Guys are on base and he’s getting them in. Chris (Johnson) with the big double. (Evan Gattis) with the sac fly. We were getting guys on, moving them over and getting them in tonight.

“And we’ve got to keep continuing that in this series.”

Teheran (12-9) kept his focus through some marathon innings by Braves batters. He walked none, struck out three, and didn’t give up an extra-base hit until Brandon Phillips’ two-out double in the fourth, the final hit he allowed.

He threw 61 strikes in 87 pitches, and the game was nearly at the 2 ½-hour point when Teheran left with an 8-0 lead. Gonzalez said Teheran was laboring in the high humidity and that there was no reason to push it at that point.

“Julio was really good, and it was tough to pitch today,” Gonzalez said. “We had some long innings and he was sitting on the bench for a long time. But he kept his concentration, he kept throwing strikes.”

Holmberg (0-1) entered with a 16.88 ERA and .500 opponents’ average in one start this season – the second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs — and managed to raise that ERA to 18.56.

In three career starts, the 23-year-old has a 14.00 ERA with 18 hits, 14 runs, four homers and 10 walks allowed in nine innings. He hasn’t made it through the third inning of either start this season.

Holmberg hit Freeman with a pitch with two out in the first inning and walked Upton, but he got through the inning unscathed. He gave up a one-out solo homer to Simmons in the second inning, the fourth homer for the shortstop in 11 career games against the Reds and his third in four games at the cozy Cincinnati ballpark.

Holmberg had gotten through two innings with only one run allowed, but a few other well-struck balls provided an inkling of what lay ahead in the third inning.

It went like this: Heyward leadoff single (on an overturned catch ruling in left after the Braves challenged). Gosselin bunt single. Freeman walk. The bases were loaded for Upton, who hit a sharp single through the left side for a 3-0 lead.

The Braves were just getting warmed up. Johnson doubled off the wall in left-center to bring in a run, and Gattis had a sacrifice fly for a 5-0 lead and the first out of the inning. When Simmons followed with a fly out, it looked like Holmberg might escape the nightmarish frame without further damage.

That is, until he intentionally walked B.J. Upton. That brought up Teheran. Holmberg hit the pitcher in the lower left leg.

Oh, it had gotten ugly quick for young Holmberg.

He walked Heyward with the bases loaded to force in the fifth run of the inning, pushing the lead to 6-0 and bringing out the merciful hook as Reds manager Bryan Price strode to the mound.

Reliever Pedro Villarreal entered and struck out Gosselin for the third out with the bases loaded. The Braves had sent 11 batters to the plate in the 29-minute half-inning and scored five runs on four hits, a hit-by-pitch, three walks and a sacrifice fly.

It was the third time in four days that they scored five or more runs in an inning, after doing it four times previously all season.

Teheran came back fter the long third inning and hit the leadoff hitter before erasing him with a double-play grounder by the next batter, Skip Schumaker. After the Braves sent seven batters to the plate in another long innings in the fourth, Teheran gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning and retired the next three batters.

“It was difficult,” he said. “I was trying to stay warm, stay loose. I came in here (clubhouse) and just tried to stretch and don’t let the long innings affect me…. I was working with the weather, I was trying to stay in control even though I got sweat (on my hand). Sometimes you don’t make pitches because the ball slides off your hand.

“I was trying to battle with the weather, with the humidity.”

He had been 2-5 with a 5.64 ERA in his past eight road starts before Thursday, and for the season he had a 4.27 ERA in 13 road starts and a 1.95 ERA in 13 home starts. But against the Reds in a small ballpark, Teheran got results like he gets back at spacious Turner Field.

“That’s something that I’ve been trying to figure out, what I do at home that I don’t do on the road,” he said. “And that’s what I did today, I came a little bit early and just tried to do whatever I do at home (before the game).”