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The Cincinnati Reds will try to extend their Opening Day good fortune to a second straight game Friday when they face the host Atlanta Braves in the second game of a four-game, season-opening series.

The Reds took advantage of several softly hit balls that fell in open spaces early in the Thursday contest as they spoiled Atlanta’s celebration of its 2021 World Series title with a 6-3 win.

The Braves are dealing with an off-field distraction between their young rehabbing superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. and their former first baseman, Freddie Freeman, who signed a six-year, $162 million free agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason.

During an Instagram Live interview earlier this week, Acuna, who is still recovering from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament sustained last July, was asked what he would miss the most about Freeman.

Through a translator, Acuna replied, “Me? Nothing.”

He went on to say that the teammates were “close” only in the sense “that we shared the same stadium. We had several clashes.”

Then before Thursday night’s opener, Acuna attempted to clarify.

“To be honest, I think it was just exaggerated and blown out of proportion by the media,” he said through translator Franco Garcia.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said he wasn’t aware of any conflict between the two stars.

“If it (did exist), it was between those two,” Snitker said.

Braves right-hander Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 in 2021) is set to make his first start since leaving Game 1 of the World Series last fall with a broken right leg. Morton fractured his fibula in Houston when he took a ground ball off the bat of Yuli Gurriel. He stayed in the game before exiting after getting one more out.

The 38-year-old veteran is coming off one of his best seasons, as he matched his career high with 33 starts and posted an impressive 1.045 WHIP in 2021. Morton has struggled in his career against the Reds, logging a 6-8 mark with a 4.41 ERA in 18 starts. His last win against Cincinnati came in 2015, when he was with the Pirates.

The Reds will counter with Reiver Sanmartin (2-0, 1.54 in 2021). The 25-year-old will attempt to become the first Reds pitcher since Wayne Simpson in April 1970 to win each of his first three major league appearances. Two of Simpson’s initial three outings were shutouts.

In two appearances covering four innings in spring training, Sanmartin allowed just one hit and one unearned run, earning a spot in the Cincinnati rotation.

“Sanmartin gives us great flexibility because he can be a starter,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He could potentially also be a reliever. We don’t have a lot of left-handed options in the bullpen. It’s nice to have the ability to do either, depending on how everything else shakes out.”

Like many teams, the Reds are carrying 15 pitchers to start the season thanks to the 28-man roster, but Sanmartin is one of just two left-handed pitchers on the staff.

In his first two big league appearances, both starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a late-season callup last year, Sanmartin earned a pair of victories by allowing 12 hits and two runs over 11 2/3 innings. He struck out 11 and walked just two.

–Field Level Media