Reds option Ashcraft, but remain bullish on a bounceback

June 6th, 2024

CINCINNATI -- A member of what's been dubbed "The Big Three" in the Reds' rotation, Graham Ashcraft, was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Thursday to clear a roster spot for reliever Emilio Pagán after his activation from the 15-day injured list.

Ashcraft, who, along with Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, was expected to lead a strong Reds rotation, is 4-3 with a 5.05 ERA in 12 starts this season.

"He’s been a big part of this team," Reds manager David Bell said. "We thought it was the best thing for Graham and our team at this point. We fully expect he will be part of our best team moving forward.”

Ashcraft, 26, hasn’t completed six innings in a start since a May 1 no-decision at San Diego, when he had a 3.63 ERA. He has a 6.83 ERA in his past six starts and a 7.90 ERA over his past three outings.

Despite a May swoon as a club, the Reds remain in postseason contention and entered Thursday's series opener vs. the Cubs 1 1/2 games out from a National League Wild Card berth. Outside of veteran Frankie Montas, the rest of the rotation with Greene, Lodolo and Andrew Abbott is relatively young and still developing like Ashcraft.

"Of course, there’s always a balance there," Bell said. "The goal is to have our best team on the field every single day. A big part of that is development. I think it does speak to both of those. We see Graham as being part of our best team. There’s no question that the best version of Graham is good enough to be here.

"What makes me excited about this, I know we haven’t seen the best version of Graham. He’s been really good here already."

Ashcraft started Wednesday's game vs. the Rockies at Colorado and appeared to struggle out of the gate in a no-decision won by the Reds, 12-7. He pitched a season-low 3 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs and six hits with no walks and two strikeouts while throwing 73 pitches.

The game began in wobbly fashion for Ashcraft, as he gave up five first-inning hits and fell into a quick 4-0 hole.

The Reds have some options to replace Ashcraft in the rotation, but they don't have to make any immediate decisions. Because of two scheduled off-days next week, it's possible the club would not need a fifth starter until June 18.

Swingman Nick Martinez, who pitched two innings in relief on Wednesday, has started five games for the Reds this season. He could step into the rotation again.

Another possibility is left-hander Brandon Williamson, who is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville, working his way back from a left shoulder injury suffered during Spring Training. Williamson has a 0.66 ERA over 13 2/3 innings in four rehab starts and is currently eligible for activation from the 60-day IL.

“Brandon of course factors in because of what he did last year and how we feel about him," Bell said. "He’s still working his way back. I wouldn’t say he’s all the way there yet. It’s a little bit early to be able to tell when he’d be available to be back.”

Ashcraft made his big league debut as a spot starter in 2022 and soon became a primary presence in the Reds' plans. He endured some inconsistency during the 2023 season, when he finished 7-9 with a 4.76 ERA in a team-high 26 starts.

After Ashcraft opened with a 2.00 ERA over his first six starts, he went 1-5 with a 12.72 ERA over his next seven games. After a stint on the IL from June 9-24 because of a left calf contusion, he went 4-4 with a 3.12 ERA over his final 13 starts -- including 10 quality starts -- before missing the final month because of surgery that repaired two broken toes in his right foot.

“If he stayed here and [we] didn’t send him down, he might have done the exact same thing," Bell said about an Ashcraft bounceback. “When you struggle a little bit, as tough as Graham is, I think there’s always a mental aspect or even a confidence aspect just because we’re human. This will allow him to get all that back and the space to make the adjustments he needs.”