Mercifully, the Cincinnati Reds bats returned to their socking ways on Tuesday evening against the San Francisco Giants. Like clockwork, they burst out banging the moment they saw Luke Weaver take the mound, though a comebacker, a gnarly bruise, and the win streak that had carried them throughout his starts all conspired to come to a frustrating end in the 11-10 loss.
The Reds got big blasts from Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Joey Votto late after Will Benson and Jake Fraley socked early. The hope is that the slump that cost them a number of wins against Milwaukee and the Giants may now be a thing of the past, and that the dynamic, deep roster of hitters they possess can return to being one of the more potent run-scoring machines in the game.
The problem, most often, is that they just don’t have much in the way of starting pitching.
There was a long time this winter and, for much of the early spring, a legitimate thought that Graham Ashcraft might well end up the muscle of this youthful starting rotation. Boasting a 99 mph fastball that moves like Jagger and a delivery funky enough to make Bootsy smile, the stuff is - and has always been - there. The lone remaining issue was whether he could tunnel his offerings enough to keep the hitters guessing, pounding grounders into the heart of the defense for efficient innings-chomping.
It was there until it wasn’t, and we know just how much Ashcraft struggled through the second era of his 2023 season. With both of my fingers crossed, I’m hoping he’s begun a third era over his last trio of outings, as he’s logged 18.2 IP against San Diego, Washington, and Milwaukee while yielding just a trio of earned runs. He’s induced 31 grounders in that span, initiated 4 ground-ball double plays, and been incredibly pitch efficient in the process. Another outing akin to that tonight would go a long, long way towards the Reds ditching their 6-game losing streak and getting back into the thick of the playoff race, while extending that third era through the end of the season would go an even longer way towards re-establishing the starting rotation as a strength of the franchise.
Wednesday’s game is slated for a 7:10 PM ET start time, and it will feature struggling starter Ross Stripling on the bump for San Francisco. The bats should be wide awake tonight, while the Reds swapped out Daniel Duarte (to AAA) for Levi Stoudt (from AAA) to replenish the back of their bullpen, for now.