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Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds Opening Day Starter 2023

That’s just about set in stone.

Cincinnati Reds v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Yes, there are still 25 or so games remaining in this, the 2022 Cincinnati Reds season. No, there are not abundant other options for the role I referenced in the title of this post.

These two truths I cannot deny. Neither, though, can run counter to what we’ve seen from Reds rookie Nick Lodolo of late, a run of form not just impressive given the dearth of competition from his own roster, but relative to the best pitchers this game has to offer anywhere.

Friday’s outing against the Milwaukee Brewers was both his most recent and most dominant, a 107 pitch masterpiece in which he rolled through a lineup with playoff aspirations while on his opponent’s home field. He cleared 8.0 IP, struck out 11, issued nary a walk in an homage to the reputation of zone mastery he owned when drafted so highly out of Texas Christian University, and in the process assumed the role of lead fish in this new school of youngsters the Reds have put together mid-rebuild.

Dating back to July 25th, Lodolo has made 9 starts at the big league level. 88 MLB pitchers have logged at least 40.0 IP in that time, with Lodolo’s 54.2 the 5th most among his peers. His 10.54 K/9 in that span ranks 13th, sandwiched between old friend Luis Castillo (10.55) and fellow uberookie George Kirby (10.23) on the leaderboard. His 3.09 FIP actually bests Castillo (3.15) in that time, while the 1.5 fWAR he’s accrued ranks in a tie for 12th with Kevin Gausman, among others.

It’s a limited sample, yes. It’s a sample that also doesn’t include starts against the mighty Dodgers, or Aaron Judge, or the devil magic in St. Louis. It does include multiple starts against the Milwaukee Brewers, at least, and a pair of starts against a Philadelphia Phillies club who was admittedly devoid of Bryce Harper at the time. Those are the kinds of mitigating factors that might make what we’ve seen from a young pitcher in a very short time hard to truly trust beyond just this short period, but this young pitcher is by no means one who simply popped up and excelled.

With all due respect to Connor Overton, for example, this is not Connor Overton. This is a player twice selected in the 1st round of a Major League Baseball Draft, most recently by the Reds as the first pitcher off the board during the 2019 edition. He’s dominated when given the chance (and the games) at the minor league level, and has been consistently ranked among the best pitching prospects in the game throughout his progression to the Reds. That he’s hit the ground running during this excellent stretch is no phantasm, it’s exactly what Lodolo was expected to be as the purportedly polished, fast-moving pitching prospect when first selected.

That his emergence has been right on time might be the only surprise around these parts, given that so seldom has that been the case with anything the Reds have tried to do for years. Injuries, underperformance, and the like have long kicked cans further down the road for many promising youngsters around these parts, and 2022 has been particularly brutal for almost every other potential breakout on what remains of the Reds roster. Tyler Stephenson was hit by it a half-dozen times, as was Jonathan India with his hamstring issues, while Jose Barrero is still bailing water out of his holey canoe. We’ve missed months of Hunter Greene (when he wasn’t struggling), while Graham Ashcraft’s shutdown was nearly as quick as his rapid emergence.

Lodolo, though, has been one of the few who has actually seemed to get better and better by the pitch all year, and now looks poised to be the beacon for the pitching staff for both the long, and near terms. That normally starts with Game 1 of each season, by the way, and he’s inching ever closer to cementing that honor for the 2023 season.