Reds prospects to start Minors season on IL
De La Cruz, Encarnacion-Strand eye April returns; Lodolo caps spring; Votto plays
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Two of the Reds' top prospects will open the 2023 Minor League season on the injured list, it was learned on Sunday.
Shortstop Elly De La Cruz, who is ranked No. 1 in the organization and No. 10 overall by MLB Pipeline, has a left hamstring strain. No. 7 prospect and corner infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand is out with a slight herniation in his back.
De La Cruz, 21, was injured on March 18 -- four days after he was cut from the Spring Training roster and optioned to Triple-A Louisville. He is expected to be back on April 12.
In 12 spring games, De La Cruz went 5-for-25 (.200) with one home run, two triples and five RBIs.
Encarnacion-Strand, 23, was initially limited with the back injury on Feb. 13, just as Spring Training was getting underway. He was able to play through it, but now the Reds want to take extra precautions. The right-handed slugger is due to return on April 19, with the potential that he would be a designated hitter and play in the field part time and be fully ready by April 24.
Part of the Aug. 2 trade that sent pitcher Tyler Mahle to the Twins, Encarnacion-Strand had an impressive first big league camp for Cincinnati. In 12 games, he batted .577 with a 1.748 OPS, four homers and 13 RBIs.
When ready, both De La Cruz and Encarnacion-Strand are expected to begin their seasons with Louisville. It is possible that they could play in a rehab assignment at a lower level, however.
More from Reds camp
• Left-hander and No. 2 starter Nick Lodolo made his final spring start against the Guardians and pitched 2 2/3 innings on Sunday at Goodyear Ballpark. He yielded one run on one hit and three walks to go with three strikeouts. Lodolo's only hit allowed was an Amed Rosario home run in the third inning.
"I was happy with all the shape of my pitches and everything," Lodolo said. "I pitched better than three walks. They were competitive. I feel good and am ready to roll."
Lodolo, who next pitches on Saturday vs. the Pirates in the regular season, finished with a 2.16 ERA in five Cactus League starts with 11 hits, nine walks and 22 strikeouts over 16 2/3 innings.
Since the offseason, improving the changeup was Lodolo's priority. He felt it was mission accomplished.
"The best my changeup has been in any start was today. The progress with that is right where I want it to be heading into Saturday," Lodolo said. I really wanted to get that serviceable in any count. Today I showed that it was."
Manager David Bell felt like Lodolo had a successful spring and was right there with fellow starters Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft.
"Very similar to Hunter and Graham," Bell said. "Continued progress. Continued improvement. Continued comfort to where their ability is able to come out more consistently. They’ve gotten more comfortable at this level and their level of talent and the work they put in is just showing up more and more. It’s been a great camp for all three of those guys."
Entering his second big league season, Lodolo is in a different position than his rookie year. Because he was a non-roster player in camp in 2022, and the fifth starter, he wasn't officially added to the club's active roster until his April 13 debut.
"It almost feels like it’s still my first Opening Day," Lodolo said. "Last year I had to watch it in the tunnel. This year, I’ll be on the line. I’m excited for it."
• First baseman Joey Votto, who is still uncertain for Opening Day as he works his way back from left shoulder surgery, played in a Minor League game on Sunday. Votto was scheduled to travel with the team back to Cincinnati on Sunday evening and participate in intrasquad scrimmages at Great American Ball Park on Monday and Wednesday.