Reds option struggling starter Graham Ashcraft to Triple-A Louisville

CINCINNATI — With veteran reliever Emilio Pagán returning from the injured list, the Cincinnati Reds made something of a surprising move Thursday in optioning starter Graham Ashcraft to Triple-A Louisville.

Ashcraft, 26, led the Reds in starts last season and was tied for the team lead with 12 entering Thursday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. A mainstay of the team’s rotation since his rookie year in 2022, Ashcraft was pulled from Wednesday’s Reds victory in Colorado in the fourth inning after allowing four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and seeing his season ERA balloon to 5.05.

“We thought it was the best thing for Graham and our team at this point. We fully expect that he’s going to be a part of our best team moving forward,” Reds manager David Bell said Thursday. “We just thought it was the best thing for him. He’s not at his best right now. I think he’s really close and we just wanted to put him in an environment where he can work through some things and get to that point of being his best as quick as possible.”

With two days off next week, the Reds won’t need a fifth starter until June 16 in Milwaukee. Until then, the Reds will stay with the four starters currently in their rotation — Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Andrew Abbott and Frankie Montas.

Ashcraft was 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA in his first six starts, but 1-2 with a 6.83 ERA in his next six starts, including Thursday’s no-decision. Beyond that, he’s seen his strikeout rate drop and walk rate increase. In the first six starts, batters were hitting .252 against him with a .686 OPS. In his last six, batters had a .307 average and an .890 OPS against him.

Bell said Ashcraft has been working with pitching coach Derek Johnson on some adjustments, both mechanically and mentally. Bell pointed to the 2023 season as a similar trajectory.

A year ago with less pitching depth on the roster, Ashcraft was was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his first six starts and then 1-6 with 12.82 ERA in his next eight starts. Ashcraft had a bad start against the Atlanta Braves in his first game after going on the IL with a shin contusion in June. He then finished the season going 4-3 with a 2.58 ERA in his final 12 starts. A toe injury ended his campaign in early September.

“When you struggle a little bit, as tough as Graham is, there’s always a mental aspect and a confidence aspect,” Bell said. “I think this will allow him to get all of this back and give him the space to make the adjustments he needs to.”

Bell said there’s been no discussion of moving Ashcraft to the bullpen.

When it does come time for a fifth starter, the Reds have Carson Spiers in the minors with Brandon Williamson rehabbing, and the team has even successfully used an opener twice this season against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

(Photo: Andrew Wevers / USA Today)

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