In the top of the third inning on Tuesday, when the Arizona Diamondbacks were looking for any way to make decent contact against Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft, Diamondbacks center fielder Jake McCarthy tried to drop a bunt down the third base line.
Reds third baseman Brandon Drury easily made the play. Graham Ashcraft still hadn’t allowed a hit. Between Monday’s and Tuesday’s games, McCarthy was the 27th consecutive Diamondbacks hitter to fail to reach base against the Reds.
On Tuesday, Ashcraft pitched six shutout innings as the Reds beat the Diamondbacks, 14-8. One day after rookie starting pitcher Hunter Greene allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings, Ashcraft followed him with a performance that was just as impressive.
“You kind of feel for the Diamondbacks because you’re facing two horses on back-to-back days,” Reds left fielder Albert Almora Jr. said. “You don’t even get a breather in between. Our staff is unbelievable. ”
On Monday, Greene didn’t allow hard contact once, relying on an overpowering fastball and a slider that tails outside the zone to get consistent swings and misses and eight strikeouts. On Tuesday, Ashcraft showed a completely different style, using a cutter and a two-seam fastball that can either jam hitters or have them reacting late to a high-speed pitch outside the strike zone.
Greene and Ashcraft have a lot in common as two rookies who throw 100 mph. This Diamondbacks series has been a showcase for their different approaches.
“It’s really special, I think we can all agree and enjoy watching it,” Reds manager David Bell said. “And the other thing too is very different pitchers… Both very successful. It’s gonna be fun watching these guys for a long time. They both know how much they have to keep improving and you know, every single time out, they want to keep getting better. ”
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Almora Jr. called Tuesday’s game a “boring” night in the outfield because Ashcraft has been so consistent getting weak groundouts. Over the last three years, the Reds’ player development staff has worked with Ashcraft on pitch selection tailored to get exactly the results he’s getting now with weak contact and groundouts.
While Greene was one of the most high-profile prospects of the last decade, Ashcraft was relatively unknown before the 2021 season. He hadn’t pitched much since high school due to injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the Reds wanted to see him take a few final steps in Triple-A before heading to the big leagues.
Ashcraft ironed out his mechanics with the Triple-A coaching staff, gained confidence in his two-seam fastball and tweaked his slider. Now, Ashcraft is the first Reds pitcher to post an ERA as low as 1.14 through his first four Major League starts since 2001.
“I personally feel that I came into it thinking I belong and should be here because I feel like my stuff works,” Ashcraft said. “I was wanting to be able to get here and do what I’m doing. It just so happened that good lord willing it’s happening. ”
On Tuesday, Ashcraft received an immediate boost from the Reds’ offense when first baseman Joey Votto hit a three-run home run in the first inning. The Reds hit a season-high five home runs versus the Diamondbacks, with Brandon Drury, Matt Reynolds, Tommy Pham and Tyler Stephenson adding homers.
Ashcraft left the game with the Reds leading 9-0, and the Reds bullpen allowed eight runs to keep the game competitive. Following a five-run eighth inning by the Diamondbacks, the Reds matched Arizona with five runs and RBI from Pham, Stephenson and Reynolds.
Ashcraft picked up his third big league win in just four starts. Even though he made his MLB debut in late May, Ashcraft is tied with Greene for the most wins on the team.
As the Reds look to build a long-term contender, they’ve made a significant investment in pitching development. The goal is for Greene, Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo and prospects like Brandon Williamson and Andrew Abbott to highlight a contending roster.
In the first two games of the series versus the Diamondbacks, Arizona got a sense of what the Reds are building towards.
“It’s one thing when you can look at the future, but you’re seeing these guys come in and have success early on,” Bell said. “We’ve talked about how much credit they deserve to be doing that, but (there have been) so many contributors along the way in their career already through player development, teammates they’ve played with, coaches they’ve had. It says a lot about our system. So we have a lot to look forward to. ”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Inquirer: Arizona Diamondbacks vs Cincinnati Reds: Reds win, Graham Ashcraft