ANALYSIS: Three takeaways from Reds’ opening series

Will Benson, Nick Martini among the stars in 2-1 start

Christian Encarnacion-Strand interrupted Bally Sports Cincinnati analyst Barry Larkin, the Cincinnati Reds legend, in the middle of a sentence Sunday in the ninth inning.

“As we talked about, there have been some great things that we have wit ...,” Larkin said.

The crack of the bat nearly drowned out the rest of the word: “witnessed.”

John Sadak, the play-by-play voice of the Reds, took it from there.

“Encarnacion-Strand wins it!” he said.

The second-year Red hit a walk-off solo home run at Great American Ball Park, lifting the Reds to a 6-5 victory against the Washington Nationals and a 2-1 series victory on the opening weekend of the 2024 season.

Until that home run, Encarnacion-Strand had been 0-for-12.

“Talking about believing in himself as a hitter, there’s no question he does,” manager David Bell told reporters after the game. “No matter what’s happening, he’s always capable of coming up with a big hit. With his power, you know that’s possible right there.”

Here are three takeaways from the first series:

1. Different Reds played starring roles: Nick Martini drove in five runs with two home runs Thursday in an 8-2 victory Thursday on Opening Day. Frankie Montas pitched six scoreless innings in his Reds debut.

The Reds lost 7-6 on Saturday despite a two-run, pinch-hit double by Martini and home runs by Jemier Candelario and Luke Maile.

On Sunday, Will Benson played the biggest role in the victory. He went 3-for-5 with three RBIs. His two-out, two-run home run on the first pitch he saw in the ninth tied the game and set the stage for the next batter, Encarnacion-Strand.

Benson credited the previous batter, Jonathan India, who fouled off five pitches in a row before doubling to keep the Reds alive.

“I had the opportunity to watch him,” Benson said. “What a great at-bat just to get my timing down. I’m grateful because I was just sitting there thinking, ‘India, just win it so I can get one more.’ It worked out. That was amazing.”

The Reds hit back-to-back home runs to end a game for the first time since May 7, 2013, when Devin Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo lifted the Reds to a 5-4 victory with game-tying and game-winning home runs against the Atlanta Braves.

2. Benson is off to a strong start: After collecting one hit in his first 25 at-bats last season, Benson is 5-for-12 this season. He hit second in the order Thursday and Sunday when he started in center field and ninth Saturday when he started in right field.

“He’s earned it,” Bell said. “He’s worked incredibly hard. Most impressively, it’s just the attitude through everything that he’s been through. He just continues to do what he can to become the best player he can be. He doesn’t worry about anything else. He’s doing it for all the right reasons to help us win. He believes in himself. We’re just starting to see what he’s capable of. He’s playing great.”

3. The Reds hit the road for the first time on a positive note: The Reds start a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies (1-2) on Monday. Andrew Abbott and Graham Ashcraft will pitch the first two games. Montas will make his second start of the season Wednesday.

“There’s always momentum,” Bell said. “There’s no question that it matters. It’s amazing how much better it feels to win a game. It all matters and it can carry over but it’s just the best playing games like that when no matter what’s happening you continue to continue to compete.”

The Phillies lost their first two games before beating the Atlanta Braves 5-4 on Sunday. The Reds were 3-4 against the Phillies last season.

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