Ashcraft facing adversity after red-hot start

June 19th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- Reds starting pitcher saw his Saturday afternoon start begin as poorly as it has all season.

As he looked to bounce back from the worst outing of his young Major League career last Sunday in St. Louis, the Brewers jumped on the rookie in the early innings of a 7-3 loss at Great American Ball Park.

After allowing a leadoff single to designated hitter Christian Yelich on the second pitch of the game, Yelich moved into scoring position on a Tommy Pham error, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and promptly scored on a Rowdy Tellez double into the gap.

Just like that, three batters into the night, Ashcraft -- pitching in his sixth career game -- was forced to work from behind for one of the first times this season. The Brewers would later pad their lead in the third, as shortstop Willy Adames slugged a two-run homer to center and Luis Urías doubled Tellez home from first, opening up an early 4-0 lead.

Ashcraft ended up getting charged for six runs over five-plus innings after he couldn't record an out in the sixth. He threw 98 pitches -- 61 for strikes -- and was charged with his first loss.

After the game, Ashcraft, who is facing the first real adversity of his career, said he felt like he’s been getting away from what had worked best during his dominant starts earlier in the month.

“We might have to start getting back to the type of pitcher that I am,” Ashcraft said. “Just make them hit the fastball first, before we start throwing a lot of off-speed [pitches].”

Speaking of off-speed pitches, when Ashcraft has had success, his sinker has played a big role. He threw it just 11 times on Saturday, and feels it needs to remain a large part of his arsenal on the mound, even when he hasn't executed with it.

“There’s just a couple times when I’ve thrown [my sinker] and it just hasn't been there, so we’ve kind of veered away from it,” he said. “I might be at fault for that instead of saying, ‘No, let’s just keep attacking with it.’”

Reds manager David Bell remained confident in his starting pitcher after the game.

“I thought he was pretty good. … It’s a good lineup,” Bell said. “He gave us a chance to win the game. It’s not going to be perfect and he’s been really good since he’s been here. He’s doing everything he needs to do.

“He’s got a great way about him,” Bell went on to say. “Great demeanor … his personality is very competitive. Just like we’ve talked about with some of our other starters, he’s going to learn from it. He’s very confident. But he’s right on track. It’s not going to be perfect for any of these guys. For young pitchers to be doing as well as they can, we’re thrilled with the way they are.”

Ranked as the Reds’ No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Ashcraft came into Saturday’s outing 3-0 on the season with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 innings since his first call-up from Triple-A Louisville on May 20. He later became the first Reds pitcher to post an ERA of 1.14 or lower in their first four Major League appearances since Chris Reitsma in 2001.

His impressive resume is similar to fellow rookie phenom Hunter Greene. And both are facing their very first bits of adversity in their young Major League careers.

“I think anytime you’re going through anything in this game, your teammates are really important,” Bell added. "There’s certain guys you can relate to more and they’re in a similar situation being starting pitchers here. There’s great support there.”