Shorthanded Braves unable to take first-half finale

Shorthanded Braves unable to take first-half finale

Shorthanded Braves unable to take first-half finale

ATLANTA -- It saved an extra-base hit, but the way injuries had haunted the Braves throughout their four-game series with the Reds, the first out of Sunday's 8-4 loss didn't seem to be worth watching another Atlanta outfielder walk gingerly back to his post.

Jose Constanza broke back into a dead run to track down a deep fly ball off the bat of Cincinnati leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, and the left fielder's momentum sent him crashing into the wall after making a difficult catch on the warning track. Constanza remained in the game, but the flashbacks to the routine plays that injured Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and, most recently, Freddie Freeman earlier this weekend were enough to send a scare through the shorthanded Braves dugout.

"Right now, anybody that kind of flinches a little bit or grabs something, you start getting scared," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The All-Star break, hopefully these four days, we get some guys healthy and start back against the White Sox, start going again."

Less than half of the Braves' Opening Day lineup took the field for the final game before the All-Star break on Sunday afternoon, and despite home runs by Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, the Atlanta offense's remaining healthy weapons could not keep pace as the Reds sent the Braves into the break with a six-game lead over Washington in the National League East.

"We lost a lot of key players, but the guys that stepped in did a terrific job for us," Gonzalez said. "You felt good that we had a chance."

With two more regular starters out of the lineup -- Freeman sat out with a jammed left thumb he suffered on Saturday while Brian McCann got an extra day of rest before the All-Star break after playing in 18 of the previous 20 games -- the Braves were buried by the Reds' four-run third inning at the expense of starter Julio Teheran, who took his fifth loss of the season.

Cincinnati starting pitcher Tony Cingrani led off the pivotal third with a bunt single and took third on Choo's single into center field. That set the stage for Joey Votto to rip a game-tying RBI double into right field, and after a Brandon Phillips groundout scored Choo from third, Jay Bruce yanked a slider that stayed in the zone over the right-field wall for his 19th home run of the season.

Teheran was lifted after 5 1/3 innings, but not before he gave up two home runs and five earned runs in the same game for the first time since May 9, an off outing from start to finish for the 22-year-old right-hander.

"I was trying to throw my best fastball, but it didn't work in the bullpen when I was warming up," Teheran said. "It was hot, too, I was sweating and I knew I was getting a little out of control."

With Heyward and Justin Upton healing from their injuries in time for a possible return for the start of the second half, reinforcements are on the way for the Braves. Evan Gattis went 0-for-4 in his return from the disabled list to help reinforce a thin lineup that scratched out enough runs to take two out of four from the Reds.

The Braves opened the scoring after getting new life in the bottom of the second inning when the Reds infield lost Reed Johnson's pop fly in the sun, allowing the Braves center fielder to reach base with two outs. Catcher Gerald Laird stepped in and sliced a bloop double into right field that dropped just in front of the glove of a sliding Bruce and kicked into foul territory, scoring Johnson. The Braves missed the chance to pad their lead later in the inning when Constanza lined out to Cingrani with the bases loaded.

"Even today, we hit the ball hard," Gonzalez said. "Constanza hits a rocket back to the pitcher to get him out of that inning, Gattis hit the ball hard twice after coming off the DL. You feel good, any time your back's up against it like we were and the other guys respond, you feel good about your club."

After the Reds took the lead in the next half-inning, the Braves were able to push across another run in the bottom of the third. Simmons drew a leadoff walk and went first-to-third on Chris Johnson's single into center field. Gattis lined out to shortstop Zack Cozart, who threw wide of first base in an attempt to double off Johnson, allowing Simmons to score easily.

Uggla countered Choo's opposite-field home run in the fifth with a solo shot of his own to lead off the bottom of the eighth, his team-leading 18th of the season and second in as many days.

"I'd like to get some more hits other than homers, but at least the few hits that I've been getting have been traveling out of the ballpark," Uggla said. "It's a place for me to build and keep going. I'm going to keep working, you guys know that, and maybe I can get that average up to about .230, .240 and see what happens."

The Reds tacked on three more runs in the ninth off reliever Anthony Varvaro to put the game well out of reach before Simmons sent his eighth home run of the year to left-center off Aroldis Chapman to cap the scoring. The Braves head into the break leading the NL with 112 home runs, but many of their key power sources surely welcomed getting four days off to recharge.

Eric Single is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.