Presto, change-o. Freel had three hits, including a huge three-run home run in Cincinnati's 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Marlins.
"You have to believe in the guy because he's proven to be such an important ingredient in any success the Reds have had," Mackanin said after the game. "If he gets in a groove and gets on base, it makes the whole lineup better."
The Reds were down by a 5-3 score when Florida reliever Armando Benitez (2-5) took over to begin the eighth inning. Javier Valentin started a rally with a leadoff double to right field and Edwin Encarnacion hit a single. Norris Hopper's base hit to right field scored Valentin.
After Jeff Keppinger's sacrifice for the first out, Freel launched an 0-1 Benitez pitch over the scoreboard in left field for just his third homer of the season, and a two-run Reds lead.
Freel entered the game batting .188 since returning from the disabled list on July 3 after missing a month with a concussion. Hitting .103 (3-for-29) since the All-Star break, he spent extra time in the batting cage Thursday with hitting coach Brook Jacoby.
"The main thing was that my timing wasn't down," Freel said. "We worked on it in the cage and I felt a lot better today. Hopefully we can put some more of those together. I actually saw the ball today as opposed to the last three months. I hadn't really been seeing it. I was closing my eyes and swinging."
The game seemed destined to end sourly for Cincinnati after it blew a 3-0 first-inning lead. Starter Matt Belisle lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up five earned runs, including a pair of home runs, and left trailing 5-3.
Coming off a 15-inning win at Atlanta where five relievers were used, it wasn't the optimum situation.
"We were a little strapped today," Mackanin said.
The bullpen came through with 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Rookie Jared Burton finished the fifth and struck out three over 1 1/3 innings. After Jon Coutlangus walked two batters in the Florida seventh, Todd Coffey induced an inning-ending double play.
Coffey (2-1) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory. Working his fourth consecutive game, closer David Weathers worked the ninth for his 19th save. Save situations were rarities during the first half and for the first time in months, there was concern about Weathers being overused.
"I really didn't want to go to Weathers to use him for that fourth day," Mackanin said. "We have to take care of him."
Weathers blew a save chance in the 10th inning of Wednesday's game, but was fatigued pitching a day game after a night game. He had no trouble getting loose Thursday and retired the side in order following a leadoff walk.
"I've always been one of those guys that I don't want the manager or pitching coach to assume you need an off-day," Weathers said. "You go on how you feel. I felt much better today than I did yesterday."
On top of blowing an early lead, Cincinnati came up empty in the seventh after a bases-loaded, no-outs rally with the heart of the order up. Ken Griffey Jr. and Brandon Phillips struck out, and Adam Dunn flied out.
"At one point, [pitching coach] Dick Pole looked at me and said, 'Jeez, we're losing by two runs and it seems like we're losing by 10,'" Mackanin said. "Everybody was down after not capitalizing on that lead."
Where the 3-4-5 part of the order came up short, the bottom of the lineup came up big. Then Freel was huge at the top. It was just the fourth time in 42 games the Reds won when trailing after seven innings.
Since Mackanin took over, the Reds are 10-4 and riding a four-game winning streak. The team is 5-3 on the 11-game road trip. All three losses at New York were by three runs or fewer and were winnable games.
"You can't put a finger on it but it just seems coming to the ballpark is a lot different than what it was," Weathers said. "We were so tense about everything. Pete has such a laid back personality and he's a funny guy. I think it's filtered in to us and we come in here expecting to win."
After 57 straight days in last place, the Reds are out of the National League Central cellar. At 41-55, they are in fourth place and ahead of the 40-54 Pirates by percentage points with the 40-55 Astros a half-game ahead. Both Pittsburgh and Houston were idle Thursday.
First-place Milwaukee has a 13 1/2-game lead on the Reds.
"Well, what do we need to go to first?" Mackanin said. "We need to keep winning."