ATLANTA — Ervin Santana was not nearly as sharp as he had been his previous starts for the Atlanta Braves, but he still got his third victory.
Left fielder Justin Upton hit a three-run homer in the first inning and the Braves held on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 at Turner Field before a nervous crowd of 31,111 on Friday night.
Closer Craig Kimbrel started the ninth inning by giving up a walk and single before rallying to post his seventh save in eight opportunities.
The Braves could not celebrate, though, until a video review of more than two minutes confirmed that Freddie Freeman had held first base on a wide throw from third baseman Chris Johnson to retire Reds first baseman Joey Votto for the final out.
Santana, signed midway in spring training as a free agent after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost to elbow injuries, compiled a 0.86 ERA in his first three starts for the Braves.
The veteran American League right-hander, though, was charged with four runs and nine hits this time as he almost let a five-run lead disappear. He struck out seven and walked one as his ERA went to 1.95.
Freeman was 0-for-12 with six strikeouts as he battled eye dryness in the previous series against Miami, but he was 3-for-4 against the Reds after getting relief from steroid drops.
Although Santana (3-0) allowed four hits in the first three innings, he blanked the Reds until the sixth. A walk, a double by second baseman Brandon Phillips and a single by right fielder Jay Bruce opened the inning, but Santana was able to keep the damage to two runs thanks to a double play.
After speedy center fielder Billy Hamilton turned a two-out hit that scored catcher Devin Masoraco into a double in the seventh, Santana was pulled in favor of lefty Luis Avilan with Votto coming up. The first baseman singled to make it a one-run game.
Mesoraco strained a hamstring rounding third on Votto’s hit and had to leave the game after limping home. Third baseman Todd Frazier had come out in the fifth because of tightness in his left leg.
Reds starter Homer Bailey, signed to a six-year extension worth $105 million during the offseason, had his fourth wobbly start in five outings. The right-hander, who allowed nine hits and five runs in six innings, is 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA.
In the first inning, Braves right fielder Jason Heyward easily nailed Votto at the plate with a strong throw, turning a potential sacrifice fly into a double play.
The Braves took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the inning. Justin Upton picked on a misplaced 2-2 changeup from Bailey and smashed his sixth homer of the season over the fence in left-center field after singles by brother B.J. Upton and Freeman.
Heyward had a two-out RBI single in the second after a double by shortstop Andrelton Simmons. In the third, Braves catcher Evan Gattis drove in Freeman with a bloop hit.
NOTES: Cincinnati RHP Alfredo Simon is the subject a $15 million civil suit filed in Washington, D.C., by a women claiming that she was sexually assaulted in April 2013 during a Reds road trip to play the Nationals. Simon, 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA in four starts this season, is next scheduled to pitch on Monday against the Chicago Cubs in Cincinnati. Neither the pitcher nor the Reds have commented on the suit. … Braves pitchers came into the series leading the majors in opposing batting average (.204) and OPS (.525), and the Reds (.205 and .620) were second. … RHP Mike Leake (2-1, 3.49) will start for the Reds in the middle game of the three-game series on Saturday night, with RHP David Hale (0-0, 2.93) going for the Braves. … The Braves had a 4-3 series edge last season over the Reds, including a split of a four-game series at Turner Field. … The Braves, who were off on Thursday after playing 16 consecutive days, get a break again Monday before beginning a series at Miami.