ATLANTA — For just the third time since 1890, the Reds will begin a season on the road. This year’s Opening Day matchup brings them to Truist Park, where they will find an energized crowd cheering for the defending World Series champion Braves.
As Joey Votto enters his 16th season with the Reds, the Braves have replaced Freddie Freeman with Matt Olson at first base. Olson is a suburban Atlanta native who is looking forward to joining a lineup that also features Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies.
Here is a look at the Opening Day matchup:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 8:05 pm ET, and the game will be available on MLB.TV. It will also be telecast nationally on ESPN2. Reds fans can listen on WLW or any of the affiliates of the Reds Radio Network. Braves fans can listen on 680 The Fan, 93.7 FM or any of the affiliates of the Braves Radio Network.
Reds: Jonathan India’s National League Rookie of the Year campaign took off in 2021 when he was shifted to the leadoff spot on June 5. He is set to hold down the role again this year, albeit with a new-look middle of the order behind him.
Tommy Pham inked a one-year deal to join a crowded Reds outfield mix. Votto dialed back the clock to his MVP candidate days for much of last season, and he figures to hold down the cleanup spot. Nick Senzel had his third big league season torpedoed by injuries, but the center-field gig is his, so long as he can remain healthy. Manager David Bell was enthusiastic during Spring Training about the depth that he believes this unit has, particularly with the speed of Senzel and Jake Fraley at the bottom.
Brave: This lineup will assume some different looks until Ronald Acuña Jr. returns in early May and resumes his role as the everyday leadoff hitter. Manager Brian Snitker has said he likes putting the switch-hitting Albies between Rosario and Olson. This is a deep and powerful lineup. Each of the first six batters has hit 30 homers in at least one of the past three seasons.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Reds: Mahle has ascended to the role of the team’s Opening Day starter after posting a 13-6 record with a 3.75 ERA in his first full big league campaign last year. His 210 strikeouts ranked ninth in the National League. While he has pitched like a top-of-the-line starter for stretches, he ascended to Game 1 duties when Luis Castillo was pushed back due to a sore right shoulder and Sonny Gray was traded to Minnesota.
Mahle compiled 14 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings during spring ball. He finished his last start Saturday stretched out and is ready for a normal workload. The right-hander made one start vs. the Braves last season, a 4-0 defeat on June 27 in which he struck out seven over six innings at Great American Ball Park.
Brave: Fried will be making his second career Opening Day start and his first appearance since tossing six scoreless innings in the decisive sixth game of last year’s World Series. Fried produced a MLB-best 1.74 ERA after last year’s All-Star break and he finished fifth in balloting for the 2020 NL Cy Young Award. The left-hander has become one of the game’s top starters since adding a slider to his arsenal in 2019.
Fried allowed two runs over five innings when he made his first Opening Day start in Philadelphia last year. He will be facing the Reds in Atlanta for the first time since tossing seven scoreless innings in Game 1 of the 2020 NL Wild Card Series.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Reds: Cincinnati’s relief corps does not figure to operate under traditionally designated roles. Bell has long been a proponent of utilizing his best bullpen arms in high-leverage situations — regardless of inning — which he did with frequency when Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims were healthy throughout 2021. Both of those righties will be unavailable on Opening Day , alongside the departed Mychal Givens and Michael Lorenzen, leaving a void to be filled at the back end of the bullpen.
Bell has mentioned the quintet of Hunter Strickland, Luis Cessa, Tony Santillan, Justin Wilson and Art Warren as candidates to get the ball in the ninth inning. Wilson is set to be the lone left-handed reliever that Cincinnati carries into Atlanta. Santillan, with extensive experience as a starter under his belt, could trend toward the multi-inning role that figures to play a particularly integral role early in the season due to the shortened time that starters had to build up their workloads.
Brave: Recently signed closer Kenley Jansen anchors what might be the league’s best bullpen. Jansen ranked second in the NL with 38 saves last year for the Dodgers. His primary setup man, Will Smith, ranked third with 37 saves for the Braves. Beyond these two proven veterans are Tyler Matzek, who became a cult hero during last year’s impressive postseason, and AJ Minter. Beyond these four options are Collin McHugh, who is regarded as one of the game’s best relievers, and Darren O’Day, who was the leader of Atlanta’s 2020 bullpen.
Any injuries of note?
Reds: Castillo, Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter last season, will open the year on the injured list due to a sore right shoulder. Sims, a Snellville, Ga., native, will be unavailable as well after back spasms stunted his spring ramp-up. The Reds’ infield depth will be tested early in the year after Donovan Solano (hamstring) and Max Schrock (calf) sustained leg injuries during Spring Training; both were candidates to factor into the new designated hitter slot.
Brave: Acuña will miss all of April as he continues to recover from a torn right ACL. The superstar outfielder is expected to return to Atlanta’s lineup during the first week of May. Right-handed reliever Luke Jackson will likely need season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Who is hot and who is not?
Reds: Seven of the 11 hits that Votto collected during Spring Training went for extra bases, an indication that his offensive revival last season was legitimate. Catcher Aramis Garcia mashed his way onto the roster (five homers, 1.288 OPS), while Stephenson (1.016 OPS) and Senzel (1.094 OPS) have impressed in their own right. It’s a testament to how well Cincinnati swung the bats during Cactus League play that no one enters on a true cold stretch.
Brave: Matt Olson homered in two of his final five Grapefruit League games. Kyle Wright, who is scheduled to pitch Saturday, allowed just one unearned run over 7 1/3 scoreless innings this spring.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• When the Braves and Reds last faced off on Opening Day in 2001, John Burkett was Atlanta’s starting pitcher. Burkett was given the assignment because Greg Maddux needed a couple extra days to recover after getting hit in the foot by a comebacker in his final spring start. Either Maddux, John Smoltz or Tom Glavine made each of Atlanta’s other Opening Day starts from 1990-2003.
• Hank Aaron homered in two of the five Opening Day games he played against the Reds. His first-inning homer against Jack Billingham on April 4, 1974, was the 714th of his career, tying Babe Ruth’s record.
• When the Reds last opened on the road in 1990, they ended up winning the World Series.