CINCINNATI — The Atlanta Braves were hoping for a spark when they fired manager Fredi Gonzalez on May 17 and named Brian Snitker interim skipper. Things got better, but in truth they couldn't have gotten much worse after an 11-28 start. Under Snitker, the Braves went 23-32, but still reside in last place in the National League East.
Atlanta is looking to get back on track Monday when it begins a three-game series against another last-place club with a manager on the hot seat — Bryan Price and the Cincinnati Reds. The teams split a four-game series at Turner Field in June.
One of the key components in the Reds' rebuilding effort — left-hander Brandon Finnegan — will start the series opener. It's his second career start against the Braves.
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Finnegan was singled out by Price as being among the young pitchers the Reds want to limit innings in the second half. The left-hander, who was acquired last July from the Kansas City Royals in the Johnny Cueto trade, has tossed 101 1/3 innings already this season over 18 starts. His nine quality starts are tied with Dan Straily for the team lead.
On Monday, Finnegan will be looking for a little good fortune after three times being the victim of a blown save, tying him for most on the staff. He also was the starter when the Cubs' Jake Arrieta no-hit Cincinnati on April 21.
Atlanta will counter with right-hander Matt Wisler who defeated the Reds on June 16 when he allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 7-2 win at Turner Field. Wisler is 4-8 with a 4.47 ERA in 18 appearances including 17 starts.
The Reds, who took the series from Milwaukee with a 1-0 walk-off victory on Sunday, have been working with a thin bench, with second baseman Brandon Phillips out with a strained calf muscle. Outfielder Kyle Waldrop was recalled from Triple-A on Sunday to give them another able bat.
Phillips was out of the lineup again on Sunday, but he is likely to return for the opener against Atlanta.
“He's better than he was the day before,” said Price of Phillips. “Hopefully, he'll be ready tomorrow. It's essentially a three-man bench. (Waldrop) did a nice job off the bench for us his last time here. You know I don't like for young players to come up here and sit on the bench for more than 10 to 14 days before getting back to getting regular at-bats.”
The Braves also won 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday when Chase d'Arnaud drove in the winning run with a single.
The Braves' bullpen struggled Friday and Saturday, but did the job Sunday, as four relievers combined to pitch two shutout innings.
“The first series back from a break is always kind of tricky,” said Jim Johnson, the last of the Braves relievers Sunday and the winning pitcher. “Guys are usually in rhythm and then you have all those days off. I think it was more kind of being out of sync for some of us. You saw the wild pitches the first two games and some uncharacteristic walks for some guys, myself included. That's an excuse, but we need to just focus on doing our jobs and throwing competitive pitches.”