By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Christian Encarnacion-Strand homered in the ninth inning, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 on Friday night in the opener of an interleague series between playoff contenders.
Encarnacion-Strand drove a 2-2 pitch from Jordan Hicks (2-8) deep to left for his fourth homer. It was Cincinnati’s fourth hit of the game.
“He’s a mature hitter,” Reds manager David Bell said. “A two-strike slider. Probably a pretty good pitch. Christian was in a good position to hit it hard, and he’s got plenty of power.”
Fighting for positioning in the NL playoff standings, the Reds (64-59) won for the third time in four games.
Encarnacion-Strand said he was looking for a pitch to hit out.
“I always try to do damage,” he said. “Maybe that’s why I strike out. But when you go up to do damage, maybe that happens sometimes, too.”
Toronto wasted a terrific performance by José Berríos, who struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings. The right-hander allowed one hit — Matt McLain’s one-out single in the sixth — and walked four.
“He was really good tonight,” Bell said of the Toronto starter. “Seemed like he got better as the game went on.”
The Blue Jays (67-56), who are in the mix for an AL wild card, finished with three hits in their second straight loss.
“I think it just wasn’t our night,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said of his offense. “Looking back at pitches, they were there. I think we just missed our pitches tonight.”
Cincinnati got a big lift from Brett Kennedy, who pitched five effective innings in his first major league start since July 4. The right-hander struck out two and walked one.
After Kennedy departed, Buck Farmer, Ian Gibaut, Lucas Sims and Alexis Díaz (5-4) each pitched a hitless inning. Díaz worked a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two.
The 29-year-old Kennedy made his major league debut with San Diego in 2018, going 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in six starts. He didn’t make another big league appearance until July, earning the win in a spot start at Washington.
Kennedy, who also pitched two scoreless innings in a relief appearance at Pittsburgh a week ago, started the year with the Long Island Ducks in an independent league.
“He was all you could ever ask for right there against a good hitting team,” Bell said. “He used his fast ball, located it well. He’s got some deception on his fast ball, and really attacked hitters with that pitch. Used his slider a little bit. The bullpen was outstanding.”
Said Kennedy: “It’s really cool for me to back in the big leagues and helping a team win.”
Blue Jays: OF Kevin Kiermaier (elbow laceration) and RHP Trevor Richards (neck Inflammation) were reinstated from the injured list. OF Nathan Lukes and RHP Jay Jackson were sent to Triple-A Buffalo.
Reds: RHP Vladimir Gutierrez (Tommy John surgery) has been pulled from his rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville.
Reds left-hander Brandon Williamson (4-2, 4.33 ERA) is the scheduled starter against Blue Jays right-hander Chris Bassitt (11-6, 3.95 ERA) on Saturday night.