Reds starter Graham Ashcraft takes baby steps toward reclaiming his role

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Graham Ashcraft
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Graham Ashcraft / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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Graham Ashcraft only threw 46 pitches on Thursday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher was not lifted due to poor performance. Ashcraft took a comebacker off his lower leg and was pulled after just 2.2 innings of work.

After being hit by a rocket back up the middle off the bat of Austin Barnes in the top of the third inning, Ashcraft hit a batter, allowed an RBI single, walked Max Muncy, and surrendered a two-RBI base hit before being removed from the game.

Prior to his early-exit, Ashcraft had allowed just one hit and a wal - a sharp departure from his previous few starts. A deeper dive into the stats reveals that perhaps Ashcraft is returning to form.

What's happened to Reds starter Graham Ashcraft?

Graham Ashcraft's 2023 campaign has been a tale of two months. Ashcraft began the season going 2-0, but an underwhelming start against the Chicago White Sox on May 2nd has torpedoed the right-hander's second season in the big leagues.

Ashcraft began the 2023 season looking like the Cincinnati Reds ace. In fact, several Reds fans believed that it was Ashcraft, not Hunter Greene, who should have received a contract extension.

After all, Ashcraft was cruising through his first six starts. The right-hander owned a 2.00 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and allowed just one home run through his first 36 innings of work this season.

However, according to FanGraphs, Ashcraft's last six starts saw the second-year hurler go 1-4 and his ERA skyrocket to 12.99 while surrendering eight round trippers. Opponents bumped their batting average against from .198 to .377, and Ashcraft looked like he was just serving up batting practice.

Why has Reds starter Graham Ashcraft abandoned his sinker?

When you look at the pitch usage from Reds starter Graham Ashcraft, you can clearly see that the right-hander has not trusted his sinker of late.

If you peruse Ashcraft's Baseball Savant page, you can grasp a better understanding of his struggles. Ashcraft's worst game of the season, by far, was against the Chicago White Sox. In that game, Ashcraft made it through just 1.2 innings, threw 52 total pitches, and not once went to his sinker.

During his previous outing, which was one of his best starts of the year and against a star-studded San Diego Padres lineup, Ashcraft threw his sinker 21 times which accounted for 22-percent of his pitches. While wasn't getting many swings and misses, it was a third offering and helped setup his cutter and slider.

Since that start in San Diego until the Reds played the Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend, Ashcraft had thrown his sinker just twice and had abandoned it all together in four of those five starts. Essentially, Ashcraft was going into games with only two pitches (slider and cutter).

Against Milwaukee, however, Ashcraft threw his sinker eight times, and just yesterday against the Dodgers, the right-hander went to it seven times in less than three innings.

If Graham Ashcraft wants to remain in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation, which currently showcases six pitchers, he'll need to continue to rely on that third offering. Ashcraft has minor league options remaining, but Reds fans may see Brandon Williamson take the bus back to Louisville, not Ashcraft.

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