Rookies no more, Reds rotation trio amped for '23

February 15th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The average age of the front three in the Reds' expected starting rotation is 24.33 years old, which collectively wouldn't be old enough to rent a car at many airports. However, , and  will be the trio that gives that rotation some legitimacy -- but only if all three starters are able to take their next step of development in their sophomore big league seasons.

It's a big ask from a club still rebuilding following a 100-loss season in 2022. 

“I feel like the sky's the limit for all of us," the 23-year-old Greene said Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. "We’re the young guys. We’re definitely the youngest rotation in baseball. Getting a taste of it last year and having our success, our struggles -- we put in a lot of work in the offseason."

After the Reds tore apart their roster last year and traded veterans from the rotation -- including ace Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle -- Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft quickly became three of the longer-tenured starters on the club. Veterans like Luis Cessa and Luke Weaver are competing for the back two spots this spring. Both pitched more from the bullpen in recent years.

All three young starters are united -- a group within a group -- knowing they can be a big part of the future core.

“We came up together. We’ve got good friendships all over the team but us three are pretty close," Lodolo said. "We talk about it. It’s no secret. It’s a good internal competition between us all. I know all three of us are pulling on the same side of the rope.”

Greene, a sensation even before he was selected second overall by Cincinnati in the 2017 Draft, made the Opening Day roster in '22. He demonstrated a fastball that reached 102 mph and used it often, but endured ups and downs while going 5-13 with a 4.44 ERA in 24 starts. 

“Even just walking into the clubhouse, I feel a lot more comfortable this year," Greene said. "Last year, [with] it being my second big league camp but really my first time around the guys, I was a little more quiet -- reading the room more and being more of a fly on the wall. This year, I feel like I’m truly a part of the team."

Lodolo, 25, also made the club out of 2022 camp but dealt with a back injury early that put him out for more than two months. The ‘19 first-rounder went 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts but had a 2.75 ERA over his final nine outings, with his big sweeping curveball working well off of his fastball. 

"I really started to learn what makes me successful and what I need to do to give myself my best chance," Lodolo said. "Also, I got more comfortable, more acclimated. I feel like at the end of the year, I was coming into my own a little. I just want to pick up from there and keep going and try to keep getting better.”

Ashcraft, also 25, emerged after he was called up in late May and he went 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA in 19 games, but had a 3.97 ERA over his first 16 starts. There were struggles down the stretch after he returned from a shoulder injury, but his triple-digit velocity from his sinker and cutter made for tough at-bats.

"It’s making sure we try to include each other in everything and make sure we try to stay as a unit, stay together," Ashcraft said. "One of the best ways to have success is making sure everybody is rooting for each other but also holding each other accountable.”

Each pitcher made – and will continue to make -- adjustments. Greene, who allowed 23 homers over his first 18 starts but just one in his final six starts while posting a 1.02 ERA, made efforts to better locate his fastball and use his changeup more.

Lodolo is also trying to sharpen his changeup to become a strong third pitch. Ashcraft is trying to make his slider a third-pitch option, though he decided not to integrate a changeup as a fourth pitch.

If there's progress in 2023 for the Reds, a big barometer will be whether the top three starters take steps forward.

"Having that friendship and also that competitiveness between us is going to be exciting," Greene said. "It’s going to be a great year.”