The Cincinnati Reds will close their season-opening series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, sending their third heralded second-year starter to the mound in as many games
Graham Ashcraft (5-6, 4.89 ERA in 2022) is the last of Cincinnati's promising trio of young starters to make his 2023 debut.
Hunter Greene took a no-decision in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Pirates. On Saturday, Nick Lodolo battled through five innings and struck out nine in a 6-2 win over the Pirates
In the rubber game of the series, Ashcraft will make his second career appearance and start vs. the Pirates. The right-hander, like Lodolo, is making his 2023 debut after a very impressive spring training
In five spring starts, Ashcraft was 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA while holding opponents to a .197 batting average.
In his spring training start on March 22 vs. the San Diego Padres, Ashcraft allowed only one hit while striking out 10 without a walk in six innings.
While Greene and Lodolo grabbed a lot of the early Cincinnati rookie headlines. In 2022, Ashcraft ranked among the National League rookie pitching leaders in starts, innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts.
"We all basically came up together and playing with each other for the majority of the way up," Ashcraft said of teaming with Greene and Lodolo. "So seeing it all come together and everything lining up for us to be back to back to back. It's pretty cool, man. It's pretty surreal, especially straight out of Opening Day, all three of us lined up. It's a pretty cool feeling."
The Reds have hit four home runs in their first two games, including a pinch-hit, three-run homer by Jake Fraley on Saturday. The first Cincinnati pinch-hit homer of 2023 matches the total from 2022, when Fraley also accounted for the only pinch-hit homer
Tyler Stephenson made his first start of the season at first base for Cincinnati. Joey Votto, meanwhile, hit a 448-foot home run on the first pitch he saw in the first inning Saturday night during a rehab start for Triple-A Louisville at Nashville. Votto is rehabbing from left biceps and shoulder surgery last August.
The Pirates will counter with right-hander Vince Velasquez (3-3, 4.78 in 2022). Velasquez was 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA in four spring training starts
The 30-year-old right-hander will make his Pirates debut after spending last season with the Chicago White Sox. He had 69 strikeouts in 27 appearances (nine starts)
This will mark Velasquez's sixth career appearance against the Reds, and his third start. He is 0-1 with a 6.08 ERA in his five previous appearances (three starts)
The Pirates' new-look bullpen features journeyman Rob Zastryzny, a 31-year-old lefty who took part in his first-ever Opening Day on Thursday in Cincinnati. In the Pirates' 5-4 win, Zastryzny threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief and earned his third career win in 25 MLB appearances
"It makes you smile when a guy is 31 years old, it's his first Opening Day roster, and he goes out and performs like that," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said
"It was so worth the wait," Zastryzny added. "I turned around, saw the whole stadium and soaked it all in. It was really cool. I felt gratitude for the whole situation. After that, it was back to business."
--Field Level Media