Graham Ashcraft is set to return to the mound tonight for the Cincinnati Reds. The right-hander has been sidelined for the past few weeks with a biceps injury, but after two rehab starts, Ashcraft is ready to cap off a strong rookie campaign.
Ashcraft, much like Hunter Greene, is looking to add a handful of starts over the final couple of weeks of the 2022 season. If the current rotation of Ashcraft, Greene, Nick Lodolo, Luis Cessa, and Tyler Anderson remains intact, Ashcraft should be the starter for Cincinnati's season finale against the Chicago Cubs.
But, with the Reds ready to activate Ashcraft from the IL, the team will need to make a corresponding move. With Mike Minor having already hit the injured list with a shoulder injury, it's very likely that a reliever will be removed from the active roster.
Graham Ashcraft's return likely means the end of the season for Joel Kuhnel.
Joel Kuhnel has overcome quite a bit during the early-part of his career. After debuting in 2019, the pandemic-shortened 2020 season only saw the right-hander toe the rubber three times in 2020. Then an injury forced the right-hander to miss all of last season and even lose his spot on the Cincinnati Reds 40-man roster.
But Kuhnel battled back and has pitched well enough this season to maintain a spot in the Cincinnati bullpen. The 27-year-old from Goldsboro, North Carolina is 2-3 this season with a 5.77 ERA and 54 punch outs over 53 innings of work.
There've been times in 2022 when Kuhnel has shined, but he's also seen his fair share of struggles. According to Baseball Savant, Kuhnel's fastball velocity is in the 87th percentile. Kuhnel also keeps the base paths relatively clear with a 5.7% walk-rate. Unfortunately, when Kuhnel gets hit, he gets hit hard. Opposing hitters are teeing off with a hard-hit rate of nearly 40%.
Joel Kuhnel has minor league options remaining, so sending the right-hander down to Triple-A would not require the Cincinnati Reds to expose him to waivers. There are others who could be sent down, but optioning Kuhnel at this point in the season is the most prudent move.