He walked Joc Pederson to fill the bases. That brought up No. 8 hitter Stephen Vogt, 5 for his last 41. Garrett barged ahead in the count 0-and-2, then threw four straight balls to force in the go-ahead and, as it turned out, the winning run.
It was the second straight loss for the Reds at the start of a seven-game trip through Cleveland, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
While the bullpen failed, the offense never showed up as five Braves pitchers held the Reds to four hits, only one after the second inning.
Rather than point a finger at his beleaguered bullpen, Reds manager David Bell aimed credit at Atlanta’s pitching and his team’s offensive meekness.
“They threw some good pitching at us, no question,” said Bell. “We have high expectations, but you have to give them credit. They pitched well against us.
“You look at the big picture and our pitchers only allowed three runs,” Bell added. “Sonny was good through five and our bullpen only allowed one run. So I think the story was more our offense and the pitching the Braves threw against us.”
And Bell, always a protector of his players, said Garrett suffers from lack of use. He had thrown only five pitches in the last week
“The tricky part is that he needs to pitch to get into the flow, get into the rhythm,” said Bell. “It is such a tough job when you aren’t pitching a lot and you come into tough spots. I realize that’s the tough part of the job, but I have to look for opportunities to get him out there more.”
The Reds took a 2-0 lead against Atlanta left-hander Drew Smyly in the second inning. Joey Votto singled and Aristides Aquino cleared the left field wall for a home run.
Gray was in total charge for 3 2/3 innings. He hadn’t gone to ball three on any of the first 13 hitters.
But he went to ball three on Dansy Swanson with two out in the fourth. And he walked him.
On the next pitch, former Reds outfielder Adam Duvall lobbed one into the left-field seats, his 25th homer, to tie it, 2-2.
And Gray seemed to come unglued after that and Bell took him out after five innings and 89 pitches.
“Once we got close to 90 pitches, it was a tough call,” said Bell. “I spoke with Sonny and he was open to going back out for the sixth. He always wants that. But it felt like the right time to go to the bullpen there at 90 pitches.”
Gray’s personal assessment was right on.
“I got into a good rhythm early, but a two-out walk led to a two-run homer,” he said. “I threw him a spinning slider that stayed in the middle.
“After that I just tried to go out there and get outs,” he added. “I thought I had some good spots with a few hiccups in the middle.”
The Reds did have opportunities in both the eighth and ninth but couldn’t come up with a timely hit.
Pinch-hitter Jesse Winker led the eighth against Braves relief pitcher Rich Rodriguez by getting hit by a pitch, putting the potential tying run on first with no outs.
Jonathan India flied to right, Tyler Stephenson lined to shortstop and Nick Castellanos blooped a single to left.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker made a pitching change and brought in left-hander Tyler Matzek to deal with Votto. And he dealt with him aggressively, striking him out on four pitches to leave it at 3-2.
Atlanta closer Will Smith arrived for the ninth, carrying 22 saves, but also six losses. With one out, Kyle Farmer doubled and Eugenio Suarez walked on a full count.
Mike Moustakas pinch-hit for Shogo Akiyama and rolled into a game-ending 3-6-3 double play.