What will it take for Ashcraft to put struggles in rearview?

Right-hander searching for answers after allowing seven runs in second straight start

May 24th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Reds starting pitcher 's recent struggles are no longer just a blip but something more alarming. Before Ashcraft's next start, the work will be in earnest to diagnose the issue and make some adjustments.

The recipient of hard contact early and often, Ashcraft endured another poor start during the Reds’ 8-5 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday night.

"I’ll have to go back and look at film," Ashcraft said. "I felt like there were some ABs where they were sitting on the first pitch and it happened to be what we were throwing or just missing middle. It could be a number of things. I think that they had their game plan and attacked it really well against me tonight. I think they beat me tonight."

Ashcraft's pitching line on Tuesday was similar to his one last Wednesday at Colorado: seven earned runs and 10 hits allowed over five innings. He struck out five and did not walk a batter.

In that 11-6 loss to the Rockies, Ashcraft began with four dominant and clean innings before being ambushed for all seven runs over the fifth and sixth innings.

Against the Cardinals, he was struggling early on.

Over his first six starts, Ashcraft was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 36 innings. His past four starts have been another story altogether: 0-3 with a 12.98 ERA and 14 strikeouts over 17 1/3 innings.

"We’ll have to continue to dig in and help him figure it out," Reds manager David Bell said. "There’s zero concern about Graham’s ability to fight through this and get through it. We’re here to help him through it. It’s just a matter of time. The main thing is he’s healthy. The [velocity] is there. We just have to help him find a way to make it easier, get some easier outs and not have to work so hard.”

Two batters into the game, Paul Goldschmidt hit the first of two home runs against Ashcraft when he drove a 1-0 cutter into the left-field seats. St. Louis batters notched three singles and a sacrifice fly for two more runs in the second inning.

In the third inning, Goldschmidt sent Ashcraft's 2-2 slider the opposite way for a one-out homer to right field and a 4-1 Cardinals lead. That one bothered Ashcraft more than the first one.

"It’s Goldschmidt. We all know he can hit the long ball and has some power," Ashcraft said. "He was able to get enough behind it and poke it out. I thought that was a really good pitch, down off. He made a good swing on it. I just got frustrated. It carried on -- next thing you know, bloop hit here, line drive in the gap there, stuff getting left over the plate. They were executing. There were some sliders that backed up a bit, and they didn’t miss them."

's first Major League home run, a two-run shot to right-center field against Adam Wainwright in the third inning, made it a one-run game. But St. Louis kept pouring it on with Tommy Edman's two-run triple and Lars Nootbar's RBI single making it a 7-3 game in the fourth.

According to Statcast, the Cardinals averaged a 91.9 exit velocity against Ashcraft -- which is about 4 mph harder than teams have averaged against him this season. His pitch velocity on both his cutter and his sinker averaged 96.7 mph -- each just a tick above average.

"I’m trying to figure out what it is," Ashcraft said. "Today, the two-seam was actually sinking instead of staying flat or cutting. There were some flashes there of … keeping guys honest and not letting them sit on the cutter or the slider. Once I can dial that pitch back in and keep it to where they don’t know if it’s coming in or going away, that’ll change at-bats and guys won’t sit back and try to get underneath the ball."

Overall, Ashcraft is 2-3 with a 5.57 ERA across 10 starts in his second big league season.

"There are people here that can help him, but mainly Graham can help himself," Bell said. "I’m betting on that for sure. He’s shown he can do that.”