ATLANTA -- As the Braves attempt to continue their early success, they can only hope that their stellar pitching staff finds a way to keep Reds rookie outfielder Billy Hamilton off the basepaths during this weekend's three-game series at Turner Field.
The Braves will get their first look at Hamilton when they send Ervin Santana to the mound to oppose Homer Bailey in Friday night's series opener. While Bailey has experienced some struggles during this season's first three weeks, Santana has provided indication he is worth the one-year, $14.1 million contract he signed on March 12.
"He's a professional who goes about his business," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Santana. "He makes great pitches with his breaking pitches and secondary pitches. He commands those pitches, and he doesn't give in."
Santana has surrendered just two runs in 21 innings during his first three starts of the season. But the veteran right-hander will now be challenged by a Reds offense that has benefited from Joey Votto's move to the second spot in the lineup. Cincinnati enters Friday having scored 62 runs in the 11 games since April 13, posting an 8-3 record in that span.
While the Reds have rebounded from a rough start to win seven of their last nine games, the Braves have spent most of this season's first three weeks at the top of the National League East courtesy of their starting rotation, which has a sparkling 1.50 ERA.
Hamilton's speed has wreaked havoc on opponents when he has reached base, though his .266 on-base percentage has limited him to nine stolen bases in 12 attempts.
"He has the ability to change the game in a lot of different ways," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "His speed is at a completely different level. There are a lot of guys that are fast but it's pretty amazing. When he gets on base, he creates havoc. You're always worried about him and focused on him. This is no offense to Billy but you have Joey up, you have Brandon [Phillips] and you have me -- they might want to work on getting the batter out. He just creates that in the back of your head. He puts it back there and makes a lot of stuff happen."
The Braves have surrendered the NL's fifth-highest stolen-base percentage (78.6 percent). But much of that damage has been done against the club's third catcher, Ryan Doumit, who is 0-for-7 in the caught stealing category.
Evan Gattis will handle the catching duties on Friday with a clear understanding of the challenge Hamilton poses. Gattis proved unsuccessful in his one attempt to throw out Hamilton when they played against each other at the Double-A level in 2012.
"I got a good pitch and had a good chance to get him," Gattis said. "But in that situation, I probably still don't get him. It's silly. He's different. He's a game-changer. You've just got to try to keep him off base. If he puts the ball in play and gets on enough, it's silly."
Braves: Kimbrel restoring faith
When Craig Kimbrel struggled in his first two appearances after resting a sore right shoulder last week, Gonzalez said there was no reason to worry. Gonzalez's belief was strengthened on Wednesday, when Kimbrel recorded a pair of strikeouts during a perfect ninth inning that sealed Atlanta's 3-1 win over the Marlins.
The Atlanta closer has now struck out five of the past six batters he has faced. Three of those strikeouts were recorded on Monday, after he had squandered a one-run lead and suffered his first blown save of the young season.
"You think all of these guys are machines," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes, these guys go through a little whatever. But it's nice to keep running him out there, and he'll be fine."
The Braves' bullpen has not yet been as productive as it was last year. But Gonzalez has seen his relief corps allow just one run in 14 2/3 innings dating back to Sunday.
Reds: Bailey turning it around
Bailey received a six-year, $105 million contract in February; he then allowed at least four earned runs in each of his first three starts this season. But the 27-year-old right-hander righted himself on Sunday by holding the Cubs scoreless over a season-high six innings.
"He hasn't been his normal, dominant self, but his slider has gotten a lot better," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's a pitch he's worked on for a long time. It seems like that pitch has really turned the corner and got him some big outs today, some big strikeouts on both the left-handed and right-handed hitters, and that was a great silver lining in what was a solid outing, but not his best."
Bailey has gone 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in five career starts against Atlanta. He surrendered four runs in each of the two starts he made against Atlanta last year.
• The Braves' pitching staff recorded 27 strikeouts during the final two games of this week's series against the Marlins.
• Reds closer Aroldis Chapman threw live batting practice on Wednesday for the first time since getting hit in the face by a line drive during a Cactus League game. Chapman said he felt good at the end of the 27-pitch session.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.