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The Reds' rotation continues to shine as Nick Lodolo pitches another standout game

With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the fifth inning on Friday, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo suddenly couldn’t command his best pitch.

He had been dominant earlier in the game against the Chicago Cubs, but an ineffective breaking ball led to a walk and a hit by pitch to load the bases. If the Reds were going to extend their winning streak to six games, they’d need Lodolo to come up with a solution in about 30 seconds.

Following a mound visit with pitching coach Derek Johnson, Lodolo went on to challenge Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger with a fastball and escaped the inning with the shutout intact. In a 3-2 win for the Reds over the Cubs, Lodolo continued his run as the Reds’ most impressive starting pitcher in 2024 and allowed just one run in six innings.

All year, Reds starting pitchers have excelled at making adjustments on the fly like the one that Lodolo made on Friday.

"It’s just maturity," Lodolo said. "That and experience. That’s something you can’t buy or speed up."

Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo allowed just one run in six innings as the Reds beat the Cubs 3-2 on Friday. Lodolo allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven. He lowered his season ERA to 2.92.
Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo allowed just one run in six innings as the Reds beat the Cubs 3-2 on Friday. Lodolo allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven. He lowered his season ERA to 2.92.

Sixty-four games into the season, the strength of the Reds has been their rotation. Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Frankie Montas and Andrew Abbott have been so consistent that the Reds have been able to withstand a poor stretch from Graham Ashcraft, who was optioned to Triple-A, and a significant shoulder injury for Brandon Williamson.

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Last season, Ashcraft and Williamson had the most and the second-most starts on the team. Greene and Lodolo missed a significant amount of time with injuries, and Abbott battled fatigue throughout the second half of the year. Montas, who was on the New York Yankees at the time, pitched in only one game in 2023.

This year, Greene, Lodolo, Abbott and Montas have been durable, dependable, consistent and effective at pitching deep into games. Nick Martinez, who pitched a scoreless inning out of the bullpen on Friday, has given the Reds a versatile piece who has given the Reds more rotation depth and also given them an impact reliever.

In 2024, the Reds haven’t had to make frequent roster moves to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. Greene, Lodolo, Abbott and Montas have carried the load, and they’re all continuing to get better.

"We felt (the rotation) was going to be a strength," Reds manager David Bell said. "We knew we had guys that could make it a strength for us. We’re really starting to see the beginning of that. We have room for improvement, which is exciting. It’s a strength of our team."

On Friday, Lodolo faced the Cubs for the second straight time. When he beat them last Sunday, he carved up the Cubs with his fastball and his changeup. In the second matchup of the week, Lodolo had the Cubs flailing at breaking balls for the first four innings. He wrapped up the first inning by getting Cubs power hitters Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ to lunge at breaking balls for strike three. Lodolo struck out seven Cubs hitters because of how well that pitch was clicking early on.

But then in the fifth, Lodolo adjusted, leaned more on his fastball and finished the game with a quality start and a win.

"I’ve gotten a lot better at awareness of my body and where I need to be on the mound," Lodolo said. "A lot of that comes to preparation and getting comfortable with things that before, I never paid attention to."

Those adjustments have been a sign of growth for him. He acknowledges that last year, if the best versions of his pitches weren’t working, he didn’t have the tools that he needed to find a work around.This year, Lodolo is doing that at a high level. He finished the game with a 2.92 ERA.

"His stuff is unbelievable," Reds first baseman Spencer Steer said. "Playing first base, I always hear that from the other team talking about how nasty his stuff is. I think he has some of the best stuff in the game."

Nick Lodolo had success early in Friday's game with his breaking ball before leaning more on his fastball. "His stuff is unbelievable," Reds first baseman Spencer Steer said. "Playing first base, I always hear that from the other team talking about how nasty his stuff is."
Nick Lodolo had success early in Friday's game with his breaking ball before leaning more on his fastball. "His stuff is unbelievable," Reds first baseman Spencer Steer said. "Playing first base, I always hear that from the other team talking about how nasty his stuff is."

It’s been a similar story of adjustments for the rest of the Reds’ top four starting pitchers.

Greene also faced the Cubs twice this week. In the first matchup, he navigated the pouring rain. In the second matchup, he turned to his splitter, a new pitch that has given him another dimension this year.

Since April 27, Greene has a 3.08 ERA and is averaging over six innings per start.

“(Pitching deeper into games) was a focus in the offseason,” Greene said. “It was something I wanted to embrace as a young pitcher trying to establish myself. It was a conversation I had with David going into the offseason. He has been great with that. He’s allowing me to put myself in that position, and I’m grateful for that.”

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene has prioritized pitching deeper into games this year, and it has showed over the last month.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene has prioritized pitching deeper into games this year, and it has showed over the last month.

Abbott, who has a 3.39 ERA this season, has been just as effective at pitching deeper into games. Last year, he had success in his first two months in the big leagues by blowing fastballs in the upper-half of the zone past hitters. This year, he’s doing a better job of commanding all four pitches and executing strategies when he doesn’t have the best version of his fastball.Last week, at the hitter’s friendly Coors Field, Abbott allowed three runs across his first three innings, and the Rockies were making a lot of hard contact. In between the third and the fourth inning, he recognized that he was leaning too far toward first base with his mechanics instead of  “driving straight at the target.”

Abbott adapted and went on to finish the game with a quality start, allowing three total runs across six innings. He’s another pitcher who’s prioritizing going deeper into games that’s having success at that.

“As a collective, the starters have noticed how much the bullpen pitched last year,” Abbott said. “If we can limit that early on, they’ll be fresh down the stretch when you really need those guys. That’s the key.”

Montas has had some excellent starts mixed with some up-and-down ones, but the high standard that he holds himself to is making a big impression on a young pitching staff. Two weeks ago, Montas delivered a quality start against the St. Louis Cardinals but took the loss. His frustration after the game set an example for what the Reds’ pitchers expect out of themselves.

In his subsequent start, Montas flirted with a no-hitter and allowed one hit in seven shutout innings.

Reds pitcher Frankie Montas has been an important veteran presence in a young Reds' rotation.
Reds pitcher Frankie Montas has been an important veteran presence in a young Reds' rotation.

Abbott stressed the importance of some internal competition within the Reds’ starting rotation. They talk about throwing more innings than the guy who pitched the day before. “We move forward like that game-to-game,” Abbott said.

Instead of prioritizing strikeouts or individual development, the Reds’ rotation is setting the team up for success with the number of innings pitched. Starters are keeping the team in the game on days where they don’t have their best stuff, protecting the bullpen and preventing the front office from having to make frequent roster moves to add a fresh reliever from Triple-A.

Lodolo’s spectacular start on Friday gave the Reds’ their sixth win in a row and their 11th win in the last 14 games. When the team was badly struggling in May, the rotation was keeping the team afloat. Now, the rotation is driving the bus for a team that’s now tied for a wild card spot in the NL playoff race.

"They’ll be the ones that carry us this whole way," Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson said. "It’s been fun to see them continue to learn, get better every day and keep doing their thing this year."

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: The Reds' rotation continues to shine in a win for Nick Lodolo