CINCINNATI -- If the Reds can get into the postseason, they still won't have key starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft at their disposal. Ashcraft, who has been out since Sept. 1, is scheduled to have season-ending surgery on Tuesday to repair a stress reaction in his right big toe.
“It is tough," manager David Bell said. "It’s just out of his control. Now, he’ll get the surgery done [Tuesday] and have a normal offseason and get back healthy for Spring Training. There’s just nothing that can be done.”
Although Ashcraft has been out for nearly three weeks and was moved to the 60-day injured list on Monday, he was one of Cincinnati's most dependable starters for a rotation that has struggled all season.
Ashcraft finished 7-9 with a 4.76 ERA in 26 starts, but he was 4-3 with a 2.58 ERA over his final 12 starts -- including 10 quality starts.
It was an up-and-down year, however. After Ashcraft opened with a 2.00 ERA over his first six starts, he went 1-6 with a 12.82 ERA over the next 12. A stint on the IL from May 7-June 24 with a left calf contusion helped the right-hander reset himself physically and mentally to be much better since the end of June.
Cincinnati has defied conventional thinking all season by contending despite its starting pitching being the weakest link of the club. The rotation, which entered Monday ranked 28th in Major League Baseball with a 5.40 ERA, has used a club-record 17 starters in 2023. That's tied with the Dodgers for the National League lead, while the A's lead overall with 23 starters.
Hunter Greene is the only starter who remains active from the Reds' original starting five. Nick Lodolo (left tibia stress reaction) has been out since mid-May. Connor Overton injured his right elbow in April and had Tommy John surgery while Luis Cessa underperformed and was released on May 14.
Currently, the Reds have four starters in Greene, rookies Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson and veteran swingman Ben Lively. Another rookie, Connor Phillips, was recalled from Triple-A Louisville to start on Monday vs. the Twins.
With three off-days over the final two weeks of the regular season, the Reds could stay with a four-man rotation the rest of the way as Bell pieces his pitching together while the club pursues an NL Wild Card spot.
Since Sept. 3, nine of the 13 starts by Reds pitchers entering Monday lasted four innings or less.
“We know the more we get out of our starters, the better off we’re going to be," Bell said.
Much of the heavy lifting will continue to fall on the bullpen. After Monday, there are 10 games remaining for Cincinnati.
“We’ve put a lot on our bullpen. I feel like now we have to be OK with putting more on them," Bell said. "It’s just kind of where we are. We’re basically [like] in the playoffs right now the rest of the way. These are playoff-type games."