Lodolo battles blister, strike zone in finale

June 23rd, 2024

CINCINNATI -- Like a surgeon with a dulled scalpel, Reds starting pitcher was unable to use his best tool -- the curveball -- to its fullest on Sunday. That's because Lodolo was dealing with a blister on his left index finger during a 7-4 loss to the Red Sox at Great American Ball Park.

"It was definitely something I threw with at the end of last week [vs. Pittsburgh] at the end of the game. The feeling for the ball is really not the same, but it’s not impacting me a ton," Lodolo said. "Definitely a little bit. Just try to get it right.”

Lodolo's finger was patched up by trainers, but he still endured his shortest and least effective start of the season. The left-hander lasted 4 2/3 innings and tied a season-high with four runs (three earned) allowed with five hits and a season-high four walks while striking out three.

“It really affected him mostly on the curveball," Reds manager David Bell said. "He was still able to throw some good ones. Without his best pitches, that was a pretty good effort right there. Today was a little bit more challenging for him.”

For Lodolo, the curveball is often his strikeout pitch, especially when it sweeps across the plate towards the backfoot of right-handed hitters. On Sunday, he generated just six swings on 21 curveballs with only two whiffs. He worked primarily with a four-seam fastball and his sinker.

Although a small injury, blisters can cause big problems. In 2021, while Lodolo was in Double-A, he missed three weeks because of a blister.

“That one was way worse," Lodolo said. "We’re obviously trying not to have it get there. It definitely affects you a little bit. I don’t want to make any excuses. I want to take the ball. I just tried to battle through it and just use what I could.”

Lodolo is now 8-3 with a 2.96 ERA in 12 starts this season. Although the rotation has largely been strong, Cincinnati could ill-afford to lose one of its best starters. He entered the day with a five-start win streak.

Compounding Lodolo's issues, it also appeared that he wasn't getting much help on pitches at the bottom of the strike zone throughout the afternoon. That would especially haunt him in a four-run fourth inning.

In the first inning against Rob Refsnyder, a 3-2 fastball down and in was called ball four by home plate umpire Todd Tichenor after it appeared to be in the zone for strike three.

As Rafael Devers led off the Boston half of the fourth inning, another full-count fastball in a similar spot was ruled a ball for another walk. On the very next pitch, a Lodolo fastball was hit into the left-field seats by Connor Wong for a two-run home run and a 2-0 Red Sox lead.

“The fourth inning was definitely a rough one," Lodolo said. "I thought I got him, but you still have to play the game. Wong, I kind of yanked it across. It was down still. He elevated it. A good swing from him."

Following a Romy Gonzalez double, Dominic Smith worked a full-count walk from Lodolo. That's when Bell saw enough and yelled at Tichenor from the dugout, drawing an ejection.

It was Bell's third ejection of 2024 and the 30th of his managerial career -- tying him with Sparky Anderson for most in franchise history.

“It’s an emotional game," Bell said. "I really try not to say anything about balls and strikes, especially from the dugout. But I did say something today and was reminded that you can’t say anything.”

The inning pressed on with Ceddanne Rafaela reaching on a fielder's choice and a run crossing on second baseman Jonathan India's errant throw to first base. A two-out double by Jarren Duran made it a 4-0 game.

"He’s a really good pitcher," Duran said. "And if he feels like you’re getting too aggressive, he’s going to pick you apart. So we just kind of kept it simple. Just like kind of single him to death. And if we get a big swing, we get a big swing."

The Reds dropped the final two games and the series after a win over Boston on Friday. It underscored what a missed opportunity it was not to get the win on Saturday. After an early 3-0 lead, Cincinnati made multiple costly outs on the bases as the Red Sox scored four unanswered runs for a 4-3 win.

“Any time you win the first game and can’t get one of the next two, it’s a missed opportunity," Lodolo said. "I definitely thought we played well enough to win or at least should have. We’ve got to keep going. It’s all we can do.”