Lively fastball has Abbott 'excited to see what’s possible'

Reds left-hander logs two perfect frames in sharp spring debut vs. Mariners

February 27th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In the earlier days of camp after a bullpen session, the pitch tracker told something he wasn't expecting. It said Abbott was reaching 94 mph with his fastball.

“Never in my career have I thrown that hard this early," Abbott said last week. "That’s definitely a great sign for me. It’s a great starting point. I’m excited to see what’s possible."

Abbott, entering his second big league season, made his spring debut on Monday against the Mariners. In a 2-0 loss, the left-hander worked two perfect innings with one strikeout, while throwing 22 pitches in a no-decision.

It went so efficiently that Abbott needed to throw additional pitches in the bullpen.

“I was getting the fastball in, for sure. Didn’t get a lot of comfortable swings off that, which was good," Abbott said after the start. "I didn’t throw many offspeed pitches. That’s mainly what the bullpen was for -- trying to work on pitches I didn’t really touch in the games and fine-tune those a little bit.”

According to the Goodyear Ballpark scoreboard radar, Abbott's fastball was consistently at 94 mph and touched 95 mph once. A second-inning strikeout of Luis Urías came as he swung and missed at a 94 mph fastball.

“So far, he has just shown that he has the life back on his pitches just like he did most of last year," Reds manager David Bell said. "He got fatigued, like we talked about, at the end. He has all that back now, and he’s looking strong. Looked really good."

Abbott, 24, spent much of his offseason time building his endurance to help carry him through an entire season in top form. During the 2023 season, he pitched 163 1/3 innings across Double-A, Triple-A and in the big leagues -- well above the 118 innings he worked in '22.

In 21 starts for the Reds, Abbott was 8-6 with a 3.87 ERA. He opened his big league career 6-2 with a 1.90 ERA over his first 10 starts, while setting a club record by beginning with 17 2/3 scoreless innings.

During the second half, Abbott had diminished returns while posting a 6.42 ERA over his last 11 starts.

"I did a lot of conditioning and a lot of weightlifting. The first thing that went on me last year were my legs," Abbott said. "Taking what I learned from last year and being able to apply it in my training and not overwork, but work so when we get to the later part of the season we don’t break down as easy."

Abbott is among those competing for a spot in the Reds’ rotation. Besides conditioning, he worked on two of his offspeed pitches to try and get them to be more consistent.

"The fastball was great last year. The slider was my best secondary pitch," he said. "Really it’s been just hammering down the curveball spin and the changeup. That’s always been a work in progress. It’s just trying to get it more consistent, get it in the strike zone early so when I do throw it out of the zone, I get chases.”

Twice, Abbott induced outs on the first pitch against Seattle. After averaging 3.6 walks per nine innings last season, cutting down free passes is another season goal while getting more early count swings.

More strikes would potentially mean longer starts and less burning out of the bullpen.

"It means a lot. Also it sets every pitcher up," Abbott said. "Everyone can be a lot more effective and throw what you want when you throw a lot of strikes. Guys have to respect that and move their approach away from what they may have. Hopefully it continues. It was good today."