Ashcraft stingy, but run support proves scarce

May 2nd, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- A perusal of the Reds’ lineup doesn't show many heavy hitters. From the fifth through ninth spots, every batter owns a batting average below .200.

A scan of the bench lacks immediate solutions. Tyler Stephenson and Christian Encarnacion-Strand missed the past four games since each was hit by a pitch. Jake Fraley, who is still regaining his strength from being sick, missed the past two.

Put it all together, and there wasn't much support for on Wednesday afternoon. Ashcraft worked six strong innings but took a no-decision in the Reds’ 6-2 loss to the Padres in the series finale at Petco Park.

“He put us in a situation where one big at-bat, one big hit could make all the difference," Reds manager David Bell said of Ashcraft. "Today, the Padres put together a nice inning and got the big hit against a guy that’s been great for us.”

Jake Cronenworth's grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning against reliever Fernando Cruz snapped a 2-2 game. Cincinnati dropped two of three in the series and finished 2-4 on the road trip through Texas and San Diego.

The Reds score runs in bunches when they win but rarely get over the hump in low-scoring games. While they have won 14 of 16 games when scoring five or more runs, they've lost 13 of 15 when scoring four runs or fewer.

During the road trip, the Reds’ rotation posted a 2.21 ERA. Their lineup batted just .201 with 60 strikeouts.

Not only is the lineup missing three starters of late, it has been without TJ Friedl and Matt McLain since Opening Day because of injuries. Noelvi Marte is serving an 80-game suspension for PED use.

Illnesses roughed up the clubhouse in mid-April, yet the Reds still have a 16-15 record.

“We’re keeping everything in perspective," said center fielder Stuart Fairchild, who was 0-for-3 but robbed Manny Machado of a three-run homer with a spectacular catch. "I think actually we’re doing a really good job of competing and making do with what we’re working with.

“I don’t think anyone is hanging their head on it. It's been tough with the sicknesses and the injuries we’ve been dealt. We’re taking it in stride.”

Ashcraft, who gave up two unearned runs and five hits against the Padres, allowed one earned run over 6 1/3 innings on Friday at Texas. Cincinnati wound up losing that game also, 2-1.

On Wednesday, Jackson Merrill grounded to the right side in the fourth inning with one out. Second baseman Jonathan India made a glove flip to first base, but Jeimer Candelario dropped the ball for an error. Later, with two on and two out, Jurickson Profar's two-run single pushed across the pair of unearned runs.

In the top of the seventh inning against lefty reliever Yuki Matsui, the Reds' struggling bottom of the order had a chance to put something together. India led off with a walk, and Santiago Espinal drew a one-out walk.

Matsui struck out Candelario, and Enyel De Los Santos struck out Luke Maile to escape the jam. That might have normally been a situation where Bell could have used pinch-hitters for an offensive boost.

“It would have had to have been a real obvious situation. These guys have been dealing with quite a bit of pain," Bell said of Encarnacion-Strand and Stephenson. "Thankfully, there’s not anything that’s going to keep them out long term.

“I fully expect Christian and Tyler to either be back in the lineup Friday or 100% available. I wouldn’t say we were all the way out of the woods today, but given the perfect situation, they would have been available.”

There are glimmers of offensive hope. Candelario went 5-for-11 in the series after an 0-for-19 slump. India went 9-for-22 on the road trip. Friedl is expected to begin a rehab assignment on Thursday and could be back within a couple of weeks.

If the Reds rotation, which has a 3.78 ERA for the season, keeps that up, things should improve.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re building off of right now," Ashcraft said. "We’re having guys go deep in the ballgames. We’re saving the bullpen from having to cover four or five innings. If we continue doing that, it’s going to put us in a great spot.”