February 2, 2023

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Ashcraft flashes velo, promise in 1st MLB win

4 min read

CINCINNATI — Of course, Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft didn’t want to come out of Friday’s game. But the rookie still couldn’t help but smile when teammates patted him on the back as manager David Bell emerged to remove him in the seventh inning vs. the Giants.

That’s because the night couldn’t have gone much better for Ashcraft as he earned his first Major League win in the Reds’ 5-1 victory over the Giants, their third straight win.

“There is no way I’m not pleased with the outing I had,” Ashcraft said. “I was filling up the zone. I was doing a lot of first-pitch strikes, getting guys out quick.”

Despite his second big league start and home debut beginning after a two-hour, eight-minute rain delay, Ashcraft was not adversely affected. He delivered 6 1/3 scoreless innings with four hits, two walks and one strikeout while throwing 92 pitches. MLB Pipeline ranks the right-hander as the organization’s No. 7 prospect.

• According to Statcast, Ashcraft twice touched 101 mph with his cutter — both during the first inning. The pitch averaged 97.6 mph while his sinker averaged 96.4 mph and topped out at 100.2 mph.

• Ashcraft threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of his 24 batters, but to each of his first 12 batters in the game.

• The Giants averaged an exit velocity of 87.9 mph on all of Ashcraft’s pitches.

Ashcraft, 24, needed only eight pitches to get through the top of the first inning.  

“When you’re commanding your pitches and you’re attacking the zone, [and] you’re getting Strike 1, it makes it a lot of fun to play defense, because you’re always moving around,” Reds second baseman Matt Reynolds said. “The guy is throwing 100 mph cutters and 100 mph sinkers. I don’t want to face him. I can’t imagine the Giants were having too much fun facing him.”

Reynolds’ RBI double and his hustle, scoring from second base on Tyler Stephenson’s RBI infield single in the bottom of the second inning against Giants starter Carlos Rodón gave the Reds a 2-0 lead. Brandon Drury hit a 3-0 elevated fastball from Rodón for a one-out solo home run in the fifth inning to give Ashcraft a three-run pad.

All four hits against Ashcraft were singles. Despite his high velocity, he only had one strikeout.  

“Trying to get in there and get out as fast as I can, keep the pitch count down and try to keep [the Giants’ score] at zero,” Ashcraft said. “If I can go out there and just get ground balls all the time instead of punching tickets, I’ll take that all the time. Strikeouts are great and everything, but so is having a low pitch count and going longer in the game.”

At only 84 pitches after six innings, it was an easy decision to let Ashcraft return for the seventh. 

“Really, the key for him was getting ahead in the count. It makes for a tough at-bat with the movement, getting a lot of ground balls,” Bell said. “It says a lot about what kind of stuff he has. He definitely showed it tonight.”

As Bell lifted him from the game, Ashcraft received a standing ovation from the Great American Ball Park crowd of 19,000 fans. The crowd included his wife and several members of his family from Huntsville, Ala. 

“We love the makeup, that’s why he’s here and that’s how he got here,” Bell said. “That’s how we really believe he’s going to be able to stay here for a long time. It’s one step at a time. Tonight was definitely a big one going against a good team, a good lineup, a lot of left-handed hitters. He pitched exactly how he wanted to and showed what he’s capable of.”

Ashcraft was a substitute player on the roster last weekend at Toronto and debuted on Sunday in place of injured starter Connor Overton. He allowed two earned runs over 4 1/3 innings for a no-decision during a 3-2 Reds win over the Blue Jays. Sent back to Triple-A Louisville after the series, he was recalled to fill Friday’s rotation vacancy.

This time, the stay could be longer lasting. Bell did not view the outing against the Giants as a spot start.

“There are no plans in place to send him back to Triple-A,” Bell said before the game.

Another organizationally developed pitcher, the Reds selected Ashcraft in the sixth round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He split last season at High-A and Double-A before making the jump to Triple-A Louisville to begin this season.

Now, Ashcraft has his first big league win in the book.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward for a long time,” he said. “For it to finally happen, it’s awesome.”

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