Braun’s homer boosts Brewers’ spirits

Brewers star Ryan Braun had been slumping a bit of late, but he hit the ball hard on Saturday night, especially in the eighth inning, when he uncorked a key home run.

Benny Sieu

MILWAUKEE — After striking out looking in the first inning on a call he didn’t seem to agree with, Ryan Braun snapped his head back in a moment of frustration.

Mired in a 7-for-43 slump when he stepped to the plate in a 2-all game in the eighth inning Saturday, Braun at least had a feeling something good was about to happen based on his previous two plate appearances.

Braun lined out to short in the fourth and flew out to the base of the center-field wall in the sixth, hitting both balls hard. That set up the right fielder’s at-bat in the eighth, as Braun hit a first-pitch fastball from Reds reliever J.J. Hoover for an opposite-field home run to help the Brewers to a 4-2 victory over Cincinnati at Miller Park.

"I think the last week or two, my swing has probably fluctuated somewhere between terrible and awful," Braun said. "Even throughout that time period I hit quite a few balls hard but at people, but those two at-bats I think were an encouraging sign."

Braun helped the Brewers answer back after Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton surprised almost everyone by tying the game with a solo home run off left-hander Will Smith in the top of the eighth. Hamilton entered Saturday a career .179 hitter against left-handed pitchers, with his two career home runs coming off righties.

Smith hadn’t allowed a home run all season, either, but Hamilton turned on an inside fastball to even the score at 2-all.

"Shocked," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Smith allowing a home run. "Tried to get a fastball in — and he got it there from what I understand — it was a good pitch inside. Hamilton has some pretty good quick-twitch fibers."

A see-saw affair in the late innings was a pitcher’s duel for the first six innings, as Yovani Gallardo and Reds starter Mat Latos were both throwing the ball well.

Brewers 4, Reds 2

Making his first start of the season after coming off the disabled list due to elbow and knee surgeries this offseason, Latos was on from the start Saturday. He was at just 72 pitches and had allowed just one hit with two outs in the sixth inning before Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett doubled on the 13th pitch of his at-bat.

Gennett didn’t come around to score and the Reds still led 1-0, but the at-bat likely prevented Latos from coming out for the seventh inning in what was similar to an early-April start for the right-hander.

The Brewers didn’t waste much time getting to Reds reliever Logan Ondrusek, as Jonathan Lucroy led off with a walk and Carlos Gomez followed with a single, extending his hitting streak to 12 games. Both runners advanced a base on an Aramis Ramirez fly out, and Lucroy scored on a groundout by Khris Davis.

With Gomez at second base and the left-handed hitting Lyle Overbay due up, Reds manager Bryan Price turned to lefty Manny Parra. Roenicke countered with Rickie Weeks, a move that paid off. After Gomez went to third on a wild pitch, Weeks singled to left to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.

"That was a big one tonight," Roenicke said of Weeks’ pinch-hit RBI single. "It’s nice to get Gomey to third. You don’t want to bounce another split-finger or whatever. Rick did a great job."

What Milwaukee’s late-inning offensive outburst did was prevent Gallardo’s excellent outing from going to waste. The right-hander allowed just one run and struck out eight over seven innings, putting together his second consecutive strong outing.

After allowing six earned runs in five innings against Minnesota on June 3, Gallardo has allowed just one run in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts over his last two starts.

"I’ve felt pretty good the last few starts," Gallardo said. "I think earlier starts before that it seemed like I would just get out of my rhythm. "(I was) just making sure I stay back, to be honest. Most starts I just try to rush through my mechanics quite a bit. I just tried to stay back over the rubber and let everything else fall into place."

Gallardo’s curveball was sharp last Sunday in Pittsburgh and was just as good if not better Saturday, as the Reds only threatened once after scoring a first-inning run.

"He’s been great," Braun said. "Really impressive. He’s really throwing the ball well, down in the zone, getting ahead of guys, commanding all of his pitches. He’s been great. Obviously, it is extremely important for our team’s success for him to be that guy. That’s what we expect from him every time out."

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