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CIN@ATL: Phillips' RBI double pulls Reds within a run

ATLANTA -- Mat Latos threw more than 64 percent of his pitches for strikes Thursday night.

That's good. But it was the quality of those strikes that had the righty frustrated following the Reds' 6-5 loss to the Braves in the opener of a four-game series at Turner Field.

"That lineup's stacked one through eight. It's tough to not give up runs and give up hard-hit balls whenever you're throwing the ball right down the middle," said Latos (8-3). "I made a couple of good pitches when I needed to, but all in all, the ball was right down the middle of the plate. A couple of hot guys that are hitting real well, [Freddie] Freeman is swinging the bat really well. It was just a matter of making an adjustment that I couldn't make today."

"He got a few balls in that heart of the plate and he made a couple of good pitches that looked like they were strikes," added manager Dusty Baker. "You don't want to second-guess the umpire, but he had kind of a tight zone tonight. It's probably the worst outing Mat's had since he's been here."

But it wasn't just Latos. The Reds didn't help themselves defensively in what was a sloppy contest. Cincinnati, which is among the most immaculate fielding teams in the National League, was charged with one error, but could have had two more -- one miscue was changed from an error to a hit by the official scorer.

Offensively, the Reds were unable to take advantage of three Braves errors, they took themselves out of innings, twice grounding into double plays, and in the first frame, made a baserunning miscue that short-circuited a potentially big inning against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson. Brandon Phillips, who singled home the first run, was out by a wide margin trying to advance to third on Jay Bruce's RBI single.

"We had [Hudson] on the ropes and we were off to the races," said Baker. "He didn't have his real good stuff in the beginning, but he settled down. Hudson can throw ground balls. That's what he did when we had him in trouble."

Latos was unable to make the big pitch Thursday.

He lost for the third time in five starts, allowing six runs and nine hits -- both tying season highs -- in his shortest outing of the season. He struck out seven and walked two, throwing 56 of his 87 pitches for strikes, and throwing 19 of his 24 first pitches for strikes. But location hurt him in the first inning, as Freeman, named the National League Final Vote winner prior to the game, lashed the first pitch he saw into the gap in right-center for a two-run double. It hurt Latos again in the fourth, when Justin Upton hit a first-pitch RBI double as part of the decisive three-run inning.

Latos noticed his inability to spot early, but simply couldn't find his usual pinpoint control. Not being able to better use the Braves' aggressiveness to his advantage proved the most frustrating to him.

"I love aggressive teams," the pitcher said. "When I can make my pitches and not throw a two-seam fastball at [Atlanta shortstop Andrelton] Simmons' face, that's not where I'm trying to go. I'm trying to go up and in on the hands. If I'm making pitches to an aggressive team like that, normally my pitch count is down when I can make pitches, get some weak ground balls, weak fly balls, that sort of thing, and if they're swinging first, second pitch. ... Tonight just wasn't that night."

The Reds, who have now dropped five of their last seven games and 10 of their last 13 on the road, continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. While they were a solid 4-for-10 for the game, two of those hits came in the first inning, and one that would have tied it in the eighth never came. Cincinnati stranded six runners in all and was unable to fully take advantage of the three Atlanta errors.

Shin-Soo Choo and Phillips each had two hits -- with Choo extending his hitting streak to nine games -- and scored three of Cincinnati's five runs. Cincinnati had 10 hits, but only two of them were for extra bases, both doubles.

"We rely on the home run, too. That's quite a bit of our offense," Baker said. "When you strike out as much as we do, it's hard to string together a whole bunch of runs, and with the lack of speed, you rely on the home run. On the road, I think that's one reason why our record on the road is a lot worse at home, because the ballparks that we play in negate the home run. We've just got to keep fighting."

The Reds, who have 16 come-from-behind wins, kept fighting and nearly matched their largest deficit overcome on the season -- trailing 6-3 in the fourth -- as they had the tying run at second with one out in the eighth.

Cincy's bullpen kept the game close, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon each allowing only one hit in two innings of relief.

Hudson (6-7) got the win for Atlanta, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits, striking out five and walking two, raising his career record to 4-1 against Cincinnati.

The Reds got off to a good start, as Phillips and Bruce each had RBI singles. But they would manage only one more hit with runners in scoring position the rest of the way, and the bats went cold after a Joey Votto infield hit with one out in the fifth.

In the eighth, Phillips, who'd followed Votto with a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth, doubled in a run off reliever Jordan Walden. Phillips' double scored Zack Cozart, who led off reaching on a throwing error by Simmons.

But Todd Frazier struck out and Chris Heisey flied out to left to end the threat.

The Reds got a leadoff single in the ninth from catcher Devin Mesoraco off Braves All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, but he was stranded at first.

"They scare you," said Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Those guys down there, they scare you. Even Mesoraco, two at-bats against [Kimbrel], he's hit an opposite-field home run and got a base hit to lead off the inning. They're a good bunch of guys who can swing the bat a little bit."

The Reds just need to swing a little bit better and with a little better timing. That's something they're sure will happen, hopefully soon.

"They got some timely hits tonight and that obviously proved costly," Bruce said. "The bottom line is we need to play better. Just try and play better baseball every day and improve on the things that are causing you to lose games right now. I think that's something we're going to do and we're going to be fine."

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