Reds' rotation sets the tone in 1st sweep of White Sox

April 14th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The Reds knew in the offseason that if they wanted to be a playoff-caliber team, their starting pitching had to be not just dependable, but needed the ability to dominate.

That's why the front office went out and signed free agents and while also expecting improvement from young pitchers , , and .

Through 15 games, Cincinnati is starting to see what it has with its starters and what's still possible. That was driven home this weekend during a three-game sweep of the White Sox, capped by Sunday's 11-4 win at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“They made my job easy. They all pitched well," said first baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who had two hits, including a home run and four RBIs, in the finale. "It made the infield and the outfielders almost have days off, it seemed like. We had a couple of really good plays in the outfield that were incredible, but for the most part, the pitchers were just dicing.”

A rotation can't do much better over three games.

The starting trio of Abbott, Lodolo and Ashcraft combined to go 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA on 10 hits -- including eight singles -- with three walks and 21 strikeouts over 18 1/3 innings.

  • Abbott allowed one earned run over seven innings.
  • Lodolo, who returned from missing nearly a year on the injured list with a left tibia stress fracture, gave up one infield single over 5 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out 10.
  • Finally, Ashcraft gave the Reds an eight-strikeout, 5 2/3-inning start with two runs (one earned), five singles and two walks.

Among National League rotations, the Reds' starters are ranked fourth in ERA (3.66), fourth in innings (83 2/3) and third in WHIP (1.16).

“All of us but one [Montas] are really young. We’re starting to come into our own more and more over each season, each game," Ashcraft said. "We are starting to execute those things that we’ve started to pick up on.”

Ashcraft, who in his prior start worked four scoreless innings before giving up five earned runs in his final 1 2/3 innings, opened the afternoon with a walk and a one-out single. But he struck out the side, getting Gavin Sheets to look at a 96.2 mph cutter and Korey Lee swinging at a slider.

It set the tone for the rest of the day.

“It was very important, a very big inning even though it was the first," Ashcraft said. "I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I was able to make it work, able to make some big-time pitches and get some big outs."

Even if it was against a rebuilding team like the White Sox, Cincinnati provided a glimpse of what magic can be made when its pitching and hitting are humming together in harmony.

The Reds outscored Chicago 27-5 over the three games to earn the franchise's first sweep over the White Sox.

“To win three in a row, you have to do everything well," manager David Bell said. "All areas of the game, we played well. It starts with the pitching of course. Graham was great today.”

Cincinnati jumped out to a 4-0 lead with a four-run third inning. After Will Benson's leadoff single, Encarnacion-Strand attacked an 0-1 sinker from Michael Soroka for a two-run homer to left-center field -- his second homer of the season and first since March 31.

Chicago's infield was playing in when Jeimer Candelario's one-out sharp grounder to first base went for a two-run infield single.

It was a 4-2 game with two outs in the top of the fifth inning when Nick Martini hit lefty reliever Tanner Banks' 0-1 pitch to right field for a two-run homer. The Reds added four more runs in the top of the seventh inning, including Encarnacion-Strand's two-out, two-run single.

Montas, who has a 2.16 ERA through three starts, will seek to keep the momentum going when the road trip moves to Seattle on Monday; Greene (Tuesday) and Abbott (Wednesday) will also face the Mariners. Martinez was skipped after Lodolo's return and could be a swingman option from the bullpen.

Could this starting group be underappreciated in baseball?

“I’m not sure. But we definitely recognize and prioritize starting pitching," Bell said. "We believe in the importance of that. We’ve talked about it being a strength now for a couple of years and it is getting better.

"It’s coming together. We have to keep improving. It’s a good way to give yourself a chance to win every day.”