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Harang key to Braves keeping pace

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Harang (34) pitches during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Frank Victores)

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Harang (34) pitches during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Frank Victores)

CINCINNATI — The Atlanta Braves need veteran right-hander Aaron Harang to pitch well for them down the stretch to keep pace in the National League wild-card race.

On Sunday, Harang was facing his former team for the fifth time in his career. Coming in, Harang was 3-0 against Cincinnati, where he pitched for eight seasons.

An elevated pitch count and a three-run fourth inning proved to be his undoing. He gave up four earned runs on eight hits over 111 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. It was his fifth start this season of fewer than six innings.

But it was a fundamental error that had Harang frustrated following Sunday’s game. In the fourth inning, he failed to cover first base on a grounder fielded behind first base by Jason Heyward. The ball nearly went foul, which caused Harang to hesitate. The blunder sparked a 3-run inning for Cincinnati.

“Something as small as covering first base, which I’ve done thousands of times in my career,” Harang said. “The one time I don’t do it, the inning unravels. If I cover first, the next guy flies out to right field and the inning’s over.”

Harang is 13-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts. The 13-year veteran has allowed at least three earned runs in each of his past three starts. His veteran presence could be key for the Braves down the stretch.