Ashcraft picks up where he left off in first start of '24

April 3rd, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- The good news for on Tuesday was that even after toe surgery and a winter's worth of rehab, the Reds' right-handed starter was able to pick up where he left off last season.

The bad news for Ashcraft was he pitched against the Phillies on a night Bryce Harper got his groove back.

Harper, who entered the night hitless in 13 plate appearances, slugged three home runs -- including two off Ashcraft -- with a career-high six RBIs during a 9-4 Reds loss to Philadelphia on a rainy evening at Citizens Bank Park.

"If I could build off of what I just did, I feel I’ll be in a really good spot," Ashcraft said.

The wider margin of the score belied Ashcraft's performance in which he gave up three earned runs (two earned), four hits and one walk over six innings with five strikeouts while throwing 85 pitches.

That's what the Reds were hoping they would get from Ashcraft, another quality start.

"It was a great first start. Definitely did his job for sure," Reds manager David Bell said. "Especially, he took a pretty good shot off the leg [from Alec Bohm in the first inning] and got deep into the game."

One strike away from a clean first inning, Ashcraft's 1-2 cutter was lifted by Harper for a homer to center field and 1-0 Phillies lead. Will Benson's two-out RBI double to right field off Spencer Turnbull evened the game in the third inning.

Leading off the Phillies' fourth inning, Ashcraft offered a first-pitch slider to Harper that was hit on a line drive into the right-center-field seats for another homer.

“I was really pleased with the way I was commanding the zone," Ashcraft said. "Harper, those two balls he hit, they were pitches he should have hit. Slider down the middle, heater down the middle. He did what he was supposed to do with them. I’m not really upset with that. It’s the game."

Ashcraft generated a good number of whiffs, 12, on 37 swings with his pitches working effectively.

"When I needed to go away with the cutter, I was able to backdoor it," he said. "When I needed to throw the sinker in to the righties, I was able to get it there. [I was] just trusting my stuff knowing you don’t have to overdo it. Just go out there and do what you do and let your stuff work. I felt like I did a really good job of that tonight.”

In the sixth inning, Harper almost burned Ashcraft again with an extra-base hit until Benson made a nifty diving catch on the liner to center field. But overall, the defense was sloppy with three errors. Two came from shortstop Elly De La Cruz, and both led to runs.

De La Cruz fielded a Bryson Stott grounder before his throw to first base pulled Christian Encarnacion-Strand off the bag for an error, allowing Trea Turner to score for a 3-1 Phillies lead.

Rain pelted the field for the entirety of the game but there were no stoppages. The poor conditions made it tough for Ashcraft to grip the baseball.

"In the second inning, I went back to go to the rosin, and it felt like someone dipped them in a bucket of water and put them back out there," he said. "It was just soaked."

Reliever Brent Suter was on the mound when Harper blew the game open with a grand slam to right-center field in the seventh inning. It was his second career three-homer game.

During the 2023 season, Ashcraft was the club leader in starts (26), quality starts (15) and innings (145 2/3). But he went through some steep peaks and valleys. First he was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA over his first six starts before going 1-6 with a 12.82 ERA over the following eight games.

Ashcraft didn't pitch again after Sept. 1 because he had surgery to repair two broken toes on his right foot. Over his final 12 starts before going on the injured list, he went 4-3 with a 2.58 ERA with 10 quality starts.

By mid-Spring Training, the foot injury was no longer a concern for Ashcraft or the club.

"Coming off an injury, it’s that much more important in Spring Training to get himself ready," Bell said. "He’s healthy and now that he’s through it and last year is in the past, it’s not the worst thing in the world to get a break and work hard like he did in the offseason and come back strong like he did this year.”