Lodolo hopeful to be healthy for Opening Day

February 17th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- ended a pretty lousy 2023 on a really high note when the Reds starting pitcher and his fiancée, Brooke, got married on New Year's Eve in Southern California. But almost right away, it was back to work for Lodolo.

The honeymoon is on hold until next offseason. The left-hander arrived at the team complex on Jan. 20, eager to put last year behind him after he was limited to seven starts by a stress fracture to his left tibia.

Lodolo has already thrown in two bullpen sessions during camp's first week and estimated he's worked off the mound seven or eight times since arriving early to Arizona. There have been no issues or setbacks so far.

"It’s just building it up and the intensity through it and everything," Lodolo said.

Lodolo threw 20 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday and returned Saturday to throw 25 pitches from a practice field mound. The steps are small, but a necessary part of the process.

“Intensity-wise, it was another notch from the other day," Lodolo said. “It went good, it felt good. Move on to the next day and go from there. There’s nothing else to that. Hit the progression and move to the next thing."

Options could include another bullpen session or moving up another notch to facing hitters in simulated innings.

"I don’t even know what the next thing is until tomorrow," he said. "I basically have to keep going with it and not really look too far ahead.”

Lodolo, 26, acknowledged that his leg isn't feeling 100 percent yet but he is pain-free when pitching.

“That’s where I got into trouble last year. I was feeling it and tried to continue going for a month-and-a-half. It just gave out," he said. "We’re trying to avoid that. We’re being smarter with the build-up.”

Known for his big curveball that can rack up strikeouts quickly, Lodolo had a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts as a rookie in 2022. The club's first-round pick in 2019, he was targeted last year to be part of a "big three" in Cincinnati's rotation with Graham Ashcraft and Hunter Greene.

In 2023, Lodolo started out well in his first three starts but had a 6.29 ERA in seven games before he was shut down in May with the stress reaction in his leg. Although unable to pitch, he kept his arm in shape and was even playing catch from his knees or while using a scooter.

"My arm is ahead of my leg so it’s like what that tells us what we can do and how we can progress, my arm is ready for it," Lodolo said.

Making every start in 2024 would be huge for Lodolo and the Reds’ chances to contend in the National League Central race. Lodolo, Ashcraft and Greene all missed significant time on the injured list last season as the club's rotation struggled.

All three pitchers are back, but the Reds' depth has increased with the additions of Frankie Montas and Nick Martinez plus returning lefty starters Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson, among others.

"When I am healthy and out there, I know what I can do and how much I can help. I want to be part of it," Lodolo said. "Last year sitting and watching it was a bummer. I want to be in the fight with everybody. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Even if he is behind other pitchers in camp, the Reds are hopeful that Lodolo can be ready to go when the season begins.

“If everything goes well, goes perfect, he'll be ready to start the season on time," Reds manager David Bell said. "When healthy, we’ve all said this, there may not be anybody like him or better than him.

“Health will be the top priority. So if we don't feel great about it, we could always just delay it, making sure that he's fully healthy. He's in a place that he could catch up and be on time for the season."

Lodolo didn't think about where he might fit in the rotation but realizes what he can achieve if he is healthy and pitching well.

"I’m confident and know what I bring to the table. It’s for me to get to the spot where I’m bringing it to the table," Lodolo said. "I was sitting there last year not able to do anything. It puts it into perspective for you. I couldn’t be more excited to just get going.”