'We needed it': Reds snap skid behind Ashcraft's strong start

July 20th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Throughout the first half, the Reds were waiting, wanting and hoping for a string of starts like they've gotten from their rotation during this first week of the second half.

clearly has got his groove back and it was on display again during Wednesday night's 3-2 Reds victory over the Giants at Great American Ball Park that snapped a season-high-tying six-game losing streak.

"Graham made pitches. He did his job for sure. We needed it," Reds manager David Bell said.

Ashcraft gave up two earned runs and five hits over his six-plus-inning start with two walks and three strikeouts. Over his last four starts, all quality outings, he has 1.82 ERA.

That followed an eight-start stretch in the first half where his results sagged while posting a 12.82 ERA. Then he missed two weeks on the injured list with a left calf contusion.

“It was more of a blessing in disguise," Ashcraft said of the time off. "It kind of allowed me to have a physical and mental reset along those lines. It was good for me.”

Giants starter Ross Stripling retired his first six batters without a ball leaving the infield. But the Reds' third inning opened with singles by Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Tyler Stephenson, which set up Will Benson lifting a 1-0 center-cut slider to left-center field for a three-run homer.

All four Reds hits in the game came in the third inning, and their final 17 hitters were retired in order. So, it wasn't quite the continuation of Cincinnati's offensive awakening from Tuesday's 10-run output in a loss. But the support still held up because of Ashcraft and the bullpen.

"I'm very happy about that," Benson said. "To really solidify the win and then the bullpen comes in there and shut it down like we know they can. That's going to be our recipe, I believe, for the long haul."

Ashcraft had runners on the corners and no outs in the second inning but he escaped with a pair of strikeouts, including ending the inning on a double play when Blake Sabol was caught stealing second base.

In the fifth inning, Ashcraft hit the first batter and walked the next two to load the bases. A run scored on Joc Pederson's 3-6-1 double play.

"It’s finding that rhythm and getting in it. You could kind of tell there in the fifth and sixth, there were some at-bats to where things kind of got away and I started thinking a little bit too much," Ashcraft said. "I just needed to go in and attack the zone. Once I got back to that mentality, [my] mechanics kind of fell in line.”

With 91 pitches, Ashcraft returned for the seventh inning and surrendered Sabol's homer to left field on a 3-1 pitch. The bullpen finished the game without allowing a hit. Reliever Ian Gibaut recorded the last two outs in the seventh via strikeout. Lucas Sims hit a batter with two outs during a scoreless eighth and closer Alexis Díaz struck out two in the ninth for his 27th save.

"Everyone else got a break. Not much margin for error there. They were able to get it done," Bell said.

Ashcraft was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA over his first six starts before hitting the skids.

"It’s a big difference," Ashcraft said. "You've got to think of the wear and tear on people’s bodies and stuff. We’re getting to the point where it’s about harnessing what you’re good at and keeping it rolling from there.”

The rotation -- which has missed both Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo because of injuries -- entered the game ranked 28th in MLB with a 5.58 ERA. Although Reds starters are only 1-3 over the last seven games, they have posted a 3.22 ERA with four quality starts in the last six games.

“It’s huge. It lets the guys know that we’re ready," Ashcraft said. "We’re going to go out there and give [the team] the best chance we can give. That’s all we can ask for. If we can keep going out and doing that, we just have to play the game and good things will happen.”

Cincinnati remained second in the National League Central, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers.

"We all know how important starting pitching is," Bell said. "We know what they’re capable of, too. Even though we hadn’t been able to get the wins after the break until tonight, it’s a great sign for us."