Abbott toiling in offseason to top hot '23 debut

December 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CINCINNATI -- Few things can tell a rookie starting pitcher what it really takes to get through a full big league season than what Andrew Abbott's body told him after he pitched 163 1/3 professional innings in 2023.

“Pitching is an entire-body thing," said Abbott, whose previous high of 118 innings came in the Minors in 2022.

Abbott, 24, zoomed from Double-A Chattanooga to Triple-A Louisville to Cincinnati in a span of 10 starts last season. The Reds' left-hander burst onto the Major League scene with a 6-2 record and 1.90 ERA over his first 10 starts for the Reds while setting a club record by beginning his big league career with 17 2/3 scoreless innings. 

On July 2, vs. the Padres, Abbott struck out 12 during a 7 2/3-inning no-decision eventually won by Cincinnati.

Having Abbott deliver strong outings helped the Reds remain playoff contenders while weathering the losses of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft to injuries.

Fatigue eventually showed, however. The latter 11 starts of Abbott's season were not as crisp, as he posted a 6.42 ERA. Eight of his first 10 starts were at least six innings, but he had only one of those over the final 11.

Abbott, who had a 3.87 ERA overall for Cincinnati, never made excuses during the season and didn't cop to any in the offseason. But he did have perspective from the experience.

“My arm was great. My arm was ready to go, but my body was just like … maybe I’m not getting 100 percent out of it," Abbott said. "Maybe I’m only getting 90, 80 [percent], whatever it may be. I feel good. I can go. But you get to that certain point, and my body just won’t let me. That has an impact. It’s not an excuse by any means. It’s a good thing for me to know."

Going into the offseason, Abbott's directive from the club was to focus more on strength and conditioning -- especially his legs -- so he can maintain consistent stamina from March into, potentially, November. In the offseason, the Virginia native moved to the Dallas suburb of McKinley, Texas, where he planned to work out at a fitness and performance facility co-owned by teammate Tejay Antone.

“[A] big thing is longevity for me," Abbott said. "I knew to expect to throw a lot of innings this year, but I want to throw even more next year. It’s just about having 160-something [innings] as the floor and then being able to go deeper throughout the entire season and not have a dramatic falloff or anything like that. Just trying to be nice and stable the entire time.”

Abbott excelled at changing speeds and commanding all four of his pitches -- four-seam fastball, sweeper, curveball and changeup -- to baffle hitters. He was also capable of missing spots, allowing 16 home runs over 109 1/3 big league innings.

Hitters now have a resume on Abbott, which has him also working during the winter to stay one step ahead.

“It’s making sure the slider and the curveball behave as they should to me, the whole time, and not having an occasional mess-up," Abbott said. "Just being more precise and more pristine on command, pitch shape, pitchability, and all that stuff. Refining and just getting better with that is the main overall focus.

"There are little focuses as well. But the majority of the offseason for me is, ‘How can I make this sharper 15 percent more of the time?’ Instead of having one that backs up and they hit a homer off of it, maybe I can keep it sharp the entire time.”