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New names look to make difference for Braves, Reds

Sportsnaut
Apr 8, 2022; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) reacts after hitting a double against the Cincinnati Reds during the sixth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have their first win as defending World Series champions, and they can thank one of their additions for contributing to the cause.

Matt Olson was acquired from the Oakland A’s for four prospects in mid-March and signed a contract extension for eight years and $168 million. Longtime first baseman Freddie Freeman left in free agency for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On Friday night in Atlanta’s 7-6 win over the visiting Cincinnati Reds, Olson, an Atlanta native, had his first three hits for his new team. He was 0-for-2 in Thursday’s season-opening 6-3 loss.

“It was good,” Olson told the Braves’ TV network afterward. “It was good to get that monkey off the back and get it out of the way, get a couple (of hits) in the process and get a win, so a good night.”

The other star Friday night was 38-year-old starter Charlie Morton, who retired the first 12 Cincinnati batters in recording his first win of the season.

“The guy’s been doing it forever,” Olson said of Morton. “It’s crazy at his age to come out and be as consistent as he has (been) at his age for as long as he has. That’s a guy you feel going out on the bump and getting a win.”

The Braves will send a much younger starter to the home mound Saturday in the third game of the four-game, season-opening series. Right-hander Kyle Wright (0-1, 9.95 in 2021) gets the call as the Braves look for their second straight win over the Reds. Wright, 26, will make his first career start against Cincinnati.

The Reds will counter with right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (9-6, 4.74 in 2021). The 26-year-old native of Cuba is coming off a season in which he finished eighth in voting for National League Rookie of the Year, won by teammate Jonathan India.

In his first 16 starts through August, Gutierrez was 9-4 with a 3.68 ERA.

Gutierrez faced the Braves twice in 2021, taking the loss in a 3-2 setback at Great American Ball Park on June 25. He allowed two homers among six hits and three runs. Gutierrez bounced back on Aug. 12, holding the Braves to five hits and one run in Cincinnati’s 12-3 win in Atlanta.

One of the highlights for the Reds in the first two games of the series has been the play of center fielder Nick Senzel, the former first-round pick out of Tennessee in 2016. Senzel, who was taken second overall by the Reds, has had trouble staying healthy in his first three seasons with the team.

That didn’t keep him from making two impressive catches Friday night, including a diving effort in the fourth inning off the bat of Adam Duvall.

“He’s playing great,” Reds manager David Bell said of Senzel, who also had two hits in Cincinnati’s first two games. “He’s covering a ton of ground. It’s so nice to have him out on the field. He’s impacting the game already (this season).”

The Reds had two relievers make impressive major-league debuts Friday as Daniel Duarte and Alexis Diaz each recorded a scoreless inning and struck out two.

“Not only were they successful, they showed outstanding stuff — dominating, really,” Bell said. “Our team was thrilled to see them out there. They’re going to continue to get opportunities with the way they pitched.”

–Field Level Media