ATLANTA -- The Reds had been winning series of late and gaining momentum while the lineup was percolating with more production. But on Saturday, Braves rookie pitcher David Hale quieted the bats in a big way.
How quiet? Too quiet. Like crickets.
Cincinnati was completely shut down after a first-inning run off Hale while Mike Leake gave up three homers during a 4-1 defeat to the Braves at Turner Field. With back-to-back losses in Atlanta, the Reds' three-series win streak is kaput, but they can still go home with a winning 6-4 road trip with a win in Sunday's series finale.
"As far as I noted, we had five balls that we hit hard today. That's not a lot," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Hale. "He did a nice job. He never really gave us a chance to create a rally."
There were only two hits produced by the Reds in the game and both came in the first inning.
Following Brandon Phillips' two-out single and Jay Bruce's walk, Ryan Ludwick just missed a three-run homer with a drive off the center-field wall. It went for an RBI double instead and a 1-0 Reds lead.
"I was kind of angry I got two outs real quick and then let them score. But I kind of settled myself down and was able to go from there," Hale said.
Hale faced the minimum number of Reds hitters after the first and retired 22 of his final 23 batters from a lineup that was missing weapons like the injured Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier.
Bruce walked to lead off the fourth inning but was erased by Brayan Pena's inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
What made Hale so tough?
"I don't know," Ludwick replied. "He did a good job. I can't pinpoint one thing. Outstanding job. We didn't have a lot of baserunners. What did we have, two hits? So he threw a no-hitter, or they did [after the first]. Just not a lot of offense."
The Braves own the best ERA in the Majors (2.14) and their rotation has been the tops in the league during this young season. Hale leads National League rookies with a 2.31 ERA. Craig Kimbrel closed the game in the ninth despite a one-out walk.
Amazingly, this could have been Hale's final night in the Braves' rotation for a while. He was filling in until Mike Minor can return from the disabled list.
Atlanta jumped ahead of Leake with one out in the first. Following a B.J. Upton soft single off Leake's glove, Freddie Freeman hit a 2-2 pitch for a two-run homer to right-center field. The deep drives were not over, however.
"I was trying to go in," Leake said. "I don't know how he hit it. It was up and almost at his neck."
In the third, Freeman sent a drive to left field and lost his second homer of the night when Ludwick made a nice leaping catch above the fence. There would be no plays to contain the next two hitters. Justin Upton crushed a 1-0 pitch for a homer into the right-field seats. Evan Gattis made it back-to-back homers by sending a 1-2 offering out to left field.
Leake finished with four runs and eight hits allowed over seven innings. He did not walk any batters and struck out four. The three homers he gave up tied a career high.
"Pitches were left where they could hit it, mistakes," Leake said. "I don't know if Freddie's was a mistake as much as good hitting. It was a tough pitch to do what he did. The other two were center-cut mistakes."