Reds prospect Nick Lodolo draws the first start of Cactus League play on Friday

Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers.
Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers. / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

The Cincinnati Reds open Cactus League play on Friday, and one of their top pitching prospects will get the ball. Left-hander Nick Lodolo, who was the Redlegs' first-round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft, will toe the rubber in the team's Cactus League opener versus the Cleveland Guardians.

Lodolo, a non-roster invitee to major league spring camp, is battling it out with fellow pitchers Hunter Greene, Brandon Williamson, Graham Ashcraft, Reiver Sanmartin, Tony Santillan, and Riley O'Brien for a spot in the Cincinnati rotation.

Reds prospect Nick Lodolo will start for the team on Friday.

While I wouldn't read too much into Nick Lodolo starting the Cincinnati Reds opening game of Cactus League play, it's definitely a step in the right direction for the Texas Christian product. Lodolo mowed down the competition at Double-A Chattanooga last season, and looked good in limited action at Triple-A Louisville before shoulder soreness shelved the lefty for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Lodolo logged 44 innings for the Chattanooga Lookouts last season. In 10 games, the southpaw annihilating opposing hitters, striking out 68 of the 173 batters he faced. That 39.3% strikeout-rate was utterly ridiculous, as was Lodolo's 13.91 K/9. Couple that with the lefty's 5.2% walk-rate and the Reds might have something special in Lodolo.

Blisters on his pitching hand and shoulder soreness limited Nick Lodolo to just three starts at Triple-A Louisville, but the former TCU Horned Frog still posted a 13.50 K/9 and a 35.7% K-rate. Lodolo's stuff is polished, and if he's healthy, there's no doubt that the 6-foot-6 left-hander will make his MLB debut sometime during the upcoming season.

How long Lodolo will go on Friday is anybody's guess, but being that it's the very first game of Cactus League play, I can't imagine the Cincinnati Reds running the southpaw out there for more than two innings max. He'll be followed on Saturday by the Reds projected No. 2 stater Tyler Mahle, and former starter turned reliever Tony Santillan will get the ball on Sunday.

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Friday's performance won't make or break Nick Lodolo's opportunity to find his way onto Cincinnati's Opening Day roster, but it sure as heck can't hurt. The Reds seem set with Mahle, Luis Castillo, Vladimir Gutierrez, and the newly acquired Mike Minor. That leaves one spot remaining in the Cincinnati starting rotation.