The Houston Astros topped the Atlanta Braves behind a three-run home run by former University of Kentucky star AJ Reed for a 5-3 split-squad win on Thursday in Kissimmee, Fla.
Reed’s two-out blast in the eighth inning off Jim Johnson provided the Astros their first lead of the game.
He finished the game 1-for-4 at the plate and is batting .286 with two doubles four RBI in 28 at-bats.
He’s battling several other candidates — including Jon Singleton, Tyler White and Matt Duffy — for the Astros’ starting job at first base this season.
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Williams Perez threw three scoreless innings and Nick Swisher drove in a run for Atlanta.
“Perez threw the ball well,” Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Over three innings, we got him stretched out and liked what we saw.”
Houston’s Danny Worth hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning during a 2-for-4 afternoon and also scored on Reed’s homer.
Astros starter Mike Fiers, who pitched in college for Cumberlands, was knocked for four hits, and an error by second baseman Nolan Fontana allowed both Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson to score in the third.
Swisher drover in Michael Bourn in the first on an RBI single. Francoeur and Johnson were a combined 2-for-6 with two walks at the plate.
Braves reliever Manny Banuelos also pitched three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks and striking out two in his second appearance this spring.
“Manny, he makes his pitches well,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got good command on the fast and curveball. (He and Perez) both pitched well.”
In the top of the sixth, Matt Tuiasosopo made a leaping catch at the left-field wall to rob Worth of his second home run of the game.
GRILLI GLAD TO BE BACK
Braves closer Jason Grilli pitched Thursday in his first live action since rupturing his left Achilles on July 11 against the Colorado Rockies and requiring season-ending surgery.
Grilli pitched one inning, allowing one hit, Worth’s two-run homer. The 39-year-old righty also issued a walk to Luis Valbuena and got Colby Rasmus and Reed to fly out and Eury Perez to ground out.
“(It felt good) getting in some live-game action,” Grilli said. “There’s a few adjustments I still need to make, but to be out there after just eight months, I know, confidently, I can be ready (for the season).”
Before the injury, Grilli converted 24 of 26 save opportunities and had a 2.94 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 33 2-3 innings. Grilli said despite Thursday being just a split squad exhibition game, he was excited to return to the mound.
“I’m an adrenaline guy,” he said. “I had to calm myself and slow myself. (I got) ahead of the first hitter and was amped up just to punch the ticket. So things now are just fine-tuning. It’s like being a radio station dial, being on either side of it and dialing it in so you get a clear sound, that’s how, I can honestly say, how I feel.”
“His Achilles is, obviously, healthy,” Gonzalez added. “He just hung a breaking ball out there, but I was pleased with his performance. Just getting him out there and pitching for us was a plus and his velocity was really good — impressive, because that’s not an easy injury to come back from.”
Grilli said he felt no discomfort during his return and added he will now pitch every couple of days.
“(I was) geeked up for a spring training game,” he said, “but I was just looking to throw strikes, make sure things work and do it consistently.”