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MLB: Travis d’Arnaud’s return buoys Braves in sweep bid vs. Reds

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The Atlanta lineup got a little deeper when catcher Travis d’Arnaud was activated from the injured list, just in time to help the club in the stretch run for its fourth straight National League East pennant.

The Braves, with d’Arnaud in the lineup, beat the Reds 8-6 in 11 innings on Wednesday and moved into a tie for first place with Philadelphia, which lost its second straight to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The veteran catcher was activated and placed in the lineup Wednesday for the first time since May 1, when d’Arnaud tore ligaments in his left thumb on a play at the plate. The injury required surgery and d’Arnaud missed 86 games.

He was 1-for-4 with a walk in his return.

“This is the best time of the year for baseball, especially when there’s a playoff run in the mix,” d’Arnaud said. “We (Braves, Phillies and Mets) are all within two games of each other.”

The Braves are going for a three-game sweep of Cincinnati on Thursday after their dramatic extra-inning win on a three-run walk-off homer from Ozzie Albies. Atlanta has won seven of its last eight and three in a row. Cincinnati has lost three straight games.

The Braves hope d’Arnaud can regain the form that saw him hit .321 with nine homers a season ago. He will share catching duties with Stephen Vogt after Kevan Smith was designated for assignment.

Going into Wednesday’s game, Atlanta catchers had combined to hit just .180 with a .537 OPS this season, which both rank as the lowest marks in baseball.

“It’ll be great to get him back,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said before Wednesday’s win. “You look at how long the lineup is now and what he has brought the last couple of years.”

The pitching matchups for Thursday feature a pair of rookies in Atlanta’s Kyle Muller (2-3, 2.88 ERA) against Cincinnati’s Vladimir Gutierrez (7-3, 4.15).

Muller did not earn a decision in his last start on Aug. 6 against Washington. The big left-hander struggled with control and allowed three runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batsman in 4 2/3 innings. He beat the Reds on June 27, allowing only one hit in five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts.

Gutierrez will make his 14th major league start and his second against the Braves. He was the losing pitcher in a 3-2 loss to the Braves on June 25, when he allowed three runs in six innings.

Gutierrez has won three consecutive starts, posting a 1.86 ERA during that stretch. He beat Pittsburgh in his last outing on Aug. 7 when he limited the Pirates to one run in six innings.

Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto continued his tremendous second half. Votto was 4-for-5 with two homers and four RBIs on Wednesday, including a two-run shot in the ninth inning against Atlanta closer Will Smith that forced the game to extra innings.

Since the All-Star break, Votto leads the major leagues in home runs (14) and RBIs (32). He has 25 homers and 72 RBIs for the season and is 7-for-12 with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs and two walks in the first three games of the road trip.

“He’s one of the greatest players I’ve been fortunate enough to suit it up with,” Cincinnati starter Wade Miley said afterwards. “It’s incredible what a great baseball player he is. It’s been fun to be part of it.”

–Field Level Media

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