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Keppinger homer hurts in Braves loss

ATLANTA - The season's clock is ticking now. And while there are still 35 games left, the Braves are starting to feel the heat.

Week after week, they talk about the need to play with consistency. But the only consistent aspect of their play has been mediocrity.

Atlanta finished 13-13 in July and is now 10-10 in the month of August after losing its second game in a row, 4-2, Wednesday to the Cincinnati Reds. For all the World Series talk spurred by the Braves' trade deadline maneuvers, the team is no closer to making the playoffs.

If only they could play as well against the cellar-dweller Reds as they do against the first-place Mets. With a crowd of 22,294 on hand at Great American Ballpark Wednesday, Cincinnati won its fifth game in six meetings between the two teams this season. Atlanta (66-61) will send Buddy Carlyle to the mound today as it looks to salvage a split of the four-game series.

The Braves had reason for optimism Wednesday when they welcomed shortstop Edgar Renteria back from the disabled list. But Renteria re-aggravated his sprained right ankle after seeing one pitch in the first inning, and had to leave the game. That turned out to be a fair indication of how the night would go for Atlanta.

Lance Cormier was effective in five innings of work, allowing just three earned runs on four hits and one walk. But manager Bobby Cox sent in Chris Woodward to pinch hit for Cormier in the top of the sixth inning, ending Cormier's night after just 63 pitches - 40 of which he threw for strikes.

He pitched well for the second start in a row, but remains winless (0-4) in five starts this season. It has been more than two weeks since a Braves starter other than John Smoltz or Tim Hudson has been credited with a victory. The last was Carlyle at New York on Aug. 7.

The Braves made Reds starter Bronson Arroyo throw 100 pitches in just 51⁄3 innings, but scored only two runs off him. And three Reds relievers kept Atlanta off the scoreboard for the rest of the evening.

The game was scoreless until Brian McCann led off the fourth inning with a solo home run to right. The catcher has now homered in three straight games.

Cincinnati went ahead in the bottom of the inning when Josh Hamilton and Jeff Keppinger led off with back-to-back home runs. It was only the eighth career home run for Keppinger, who attended Parkview and played college ball at Georgia.

Chipper Jones missed a three-run homer to left center by just inches, and ended up with only a single to load the bases in the fifth. Atlanta got nothing out of the opportunity. Mark Teixeira popped out and McCann grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning.

McCann also made a costly error in the bottom of the inning. Arroyo drove in a run with a single to left, and McCann couldn't handle the throw to the plate. The ball rolled into a camera well near the Reds' dugout, and another run scored automatically from third, putting Cincinnati up 4-1.

Andruw Jones cut it to 4-2 with a solo homer in the sixth.

SideBar: Braves at Reds

' When: Today, 7:10 p.m.

' Where: Cincinnati

' TV/Radio: SportSouth/94.9-FM