Sunday, May 02, 1999


McKeon will shuffle majors' worst hitting lineup

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Harnisch allowed 3 runs in 7 innings.
(AP photo)

| ZOOM |
        ATLANTA — The two-game totals for Cincinnati from Turner Field: One run, four hits ... and one lineup change.

        Weary of seeing his hitters struggle, as they did for the second night in a row Saturday in a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Reds manager Jack McKeon planned to use a fresh contingent of players in today's series finale.

        The other time McKeon unveiled a new group of players, just nine days ago, they produced a brief flurry of victories. But though McKeon is an extremely patient individual, he wasn't about to sit idly as the Reds' major league-low team batting average dropped to .239 and as the team returned to last place in the National League Central Division.

        So, barring an overnight change of heart or some sudden injuries, expect to see Aaron Boone at third base, Jeffrey Hammonds in right field and Brian Johnson behind the plate today.

        This is partly meant to counter Atlanta left-hander Odalis Perez, since all three Reds bat right-handed. But even if Perez kicked the ball toward the strike zone, McKeon probably would be inclined to shuffle the lineup.

        “You have to give Atlanta's pitchers credit. They did a great job,” McKeon said after Kevin Millwood (2-2) stifled the Reds on three hits in 7 1/3 innings. “But we have better hitters than that. They ought to be able to crank out a few more hits.”

        When they received their rare opportunities, they couldn't. Millwood induced a foul pop-up from Eddie Taubensee with two on, two outs and one run in to end the first inning.

        Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, the Reds brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate when pinch hitter Mark Sweeney singled and Mike Cameron walked with one out. That finished Millwood, who was relieved by Rudy Seanez. The rally ended as Michael Tucker hit into a force play and Greg Vaughn flied out.

        When Millwood wasn't overwhelming the Reds with 93-mph fastballs and sneaky curveballs, his teammates overpowered them with offense.

        Third baseman Chipper Jones, whose playing status was in doubt due to an injured right ankle, blasted two home runs, one from each side of the plate. That was the first time in his career he'd done that in one game.

        “I had no idea. It's amazing how things happen,” he said. “You could be feeling great and have five of the worst at-bats ever. Then you're feeling bad — don't try to do too much — and hit two home runs.”

        Andruw Jones and former Red Bret Boone socked one homer each, helping seal Atlanta's fourth consecutive victory.

        “It must be nice to see guys put you out in front and add to it,” McKeon said. “Instead of just talking about it, they do it.”

        Reds starter Pete Harnisch (2-3) pitched well enough to win on many nights, allowing three runs and seven hits while walking nobody in seven innings. But an unearned run preyed upon him in the third inning before the Jones sluggers did. Chipper clobbered his first pitch in the fourth, breaking a 1-1 tie, before Andruw launched a one-out blast in the seventh.

        “You go out there and all you're trying to do is put some good at-bats together, not do too much, and two balls fly out of the ball park,” Chipper Jones said. “I can't run real well, but as long as I make solid contact, I don't have to run hard.

        Harnisch has yielded seven homers in his last 24 1/3 innings, a disturbing ratio.

        Said Harnisch, “I made a couple of mistakes. All my mistakes seem to end up in seats these days.”

        By contrast, the Braves' pitchers have been almost perfect recently. They've allowed two runs in their last 34 innings and have been forced to use relievers for only 2 1/3 innings in their last four games.

        “It looked like we ran into a buzzsaw down here,” McKeon said.

        The evening began in promising fashion for the Reds. Greg Vaughn, back in the lineup after missing Friday night's game with a sore left ankle, walked on a full-count pitch with two outs.

        Sean Casey then lashed Mill wood's 0-1 pitch to right-center field for a double. Vaughn might have stopped at third, but Brian Jordan briefly bobbled the ball, enabling the run to score.

        Then luck and sloppiness worked against the Reds. Ozzie Guillen hit an ordinary-looking grounder toward third base that bounced over Mark Lewis' head for a one-out single. Millwood sacrificed Guillen to second base.

        Otis Nixon hit a slow chopper to the right side of the infield. Even at age 40, it was a sure hit for him. Unfortunately for the Reds, Casey compounded the trouble by fielding the ball and tossing it behind Harnisch, who was covering first base. Guillen scored the tying run.

        After both Joneses homered off Harnisch to put the Reds behind 3-1, back-to-back blasts by Boone and Chipper Jones off reliever Gabe White enabled the Braves to pad their lead in the eighth.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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