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Why Cincinnati Reds might be forced to limit or sit best starter when stakes are highest

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Andrew Abbott (41) throws a pitch in the fourth inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The game was tied 3-3 after five innings.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Andrew Abbott (41) throws a pitch in the fourth inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The game was tied 3-3 after five innings.

WASHINGTON — Reason No. 118 that Nick Krall needs to be aggressive enough to trade for a starting pitcher before the Aug. 1 trade deadline:

The Cincinnati Reds general manager likely will be forced to limit or even shut down the best starting pitcher on his staff when the stakes are highest and the pennant-race heat the hottest down the stretch.

“It’s something we have to consider,” Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson said.

That’s not a knock on Andrew Abbott.

In fact, it’s just the opposite for the rookie left-hander, who has been such an effective and important part of the Reds’ surge into first place that workload issues could become a priority for the young pitcher by September.

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“I would love to throw the entire time,” said Abbott (4-0, 1.21 ERA), who makes his 17th start of the season in Friday’s series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, with 91 1/3 innings pitched so far across three levels of the Reds organization this season.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Andrew Abbott (41) returns to the dugout after the top of the first inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The game was tied 3-3 after five innings.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Andrew Abbott (41) returns to the dugout after the top of the first inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The game was tied 3-3 after five innings.

Abbott ready to pitch as long as it takes

“I’m ready to go whenever they need me to,” he said. “If that’s throwing into September, hopefully, or November — whatever it is, just keep going.”

As tempting as that is for an ahead-of-schedule contender in the NL Central driver’s seat, Abbott’s long-term well-being is a priority, and the club is already starting to look down the road at how much road they’ll allow him to travel toward the end of the season, Johnson said.

“You have to,” he said. “But the other fact is we also have a team of people who are in this to win it. There is consideration there, too -- that it has to be beyond what really isn’t an exact science anyway. Because it’s not.”

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That aforementioned 118 number also is Abbott’s professional career high in innings (last year) — a mark he’ll exceed by the end of the month at his current pace. He threw 119 2/3 innings in 2021, with the lion’s share of that for the University of Virginia before he was drafted in the second round by the Reds.

Abbott said he was told in the minors the organization’s policy was to increase a starter’s workload by about 20 percent a year.

So 140 this year? Or 150? That might get him to the end of August if he continues to pitch like he has.

More if he feels strong enough, is pitching well enough and efficiently enough?

“If he’s pitching well, then you have to look at it,” Johnson said, “kind of like, ‘What’s the line of demarcation’? Where is the line that says, ‘Hey this just isn’t a healthy way to go about this’?

“So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Team had to handle other young starters with care

Johnson pointed out that the team went through decisions like this with all of its Big Three — Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft — when they were rookies last year.

The obvious difference is that the biggest competitive goal the Reds had at this time last year was trying to avoid 100 losses, which, of course, they did not.

This time around they’re alone in first place with 74 games to play as they face the second-place Brewers in nine of the next 16 — a team in dire need of more starting pitching with a chance to see October on the horizon when Abbott’s workload becomes a serious question.

Team being competitive will also be considered

“You have to look at that and say what’s the best for him, and then what’s the best for our team,” Johnson said. “Because there are 25 other guys who would be counting on him as well.”

That makes finding the sweet spot for managing Abbott down the stretch especially important for this team.

And makes Krall’s efforts to add at least one veteran starting pitcher to the mix in the next few weeks potentially critical.

“I know it’s on his mind,” Johnson said of the GM, who has declared he’s a buyer — but also suggested in recent days the price tags in this buyer’s market have been too steep to pay this early in the process.

“I know internally there’s been discussions about the what-ifs and what’s-out-theres and all of that,” Johnson said. “At the same time, we’re trying to get Greene healthy again and we’re trying to get Lodolo healthy again. So there are some people in play internally that if we could get back into the fold there might not be as big a need.”

Both Greene (hip/back) and Lodolo (tibia) are expected back in August — with only Lodolo looking to have an outside shot at a return that beats the trade deadline.

“There also is the idea that maybe we don’t get them back as soon as we’d like, and we’re gonna have to do something,” Johnson said. “I think the good part is that maybe we’re in a spot where we can figure out what to do right before that deadline happens.”

Either way, the Abbott question looms. And potentially larger with every week that Lodolo and Greene are out — and that Abbott continues to pitch well.

Even with a recent run of better starts, the Reds’ rotation took a 5.65 ERA into Thursday’s start in Washington — the third-worst rotation ERA in the majors (behind the Colorado Rockies and Oakland A’s)

“I think they have a plan,” said Abbott, who hasn’t had the conversation with Johnson or the brass yet. “I handled 118 pretty well. That’s the thing for me: I’ll be ready to throw whenever they need me, as long as they need me to.”

If the team decides to stretch Abbott’s workload down the stretch, Johnson said he prefers the easier task of building in extra days between starts rather than limiting the innings per start.

“All of that’s just stuff we don’t control, so it’s at the end of the day why worry about that kind of stuff,” Abbott said. “Just keep going while you can.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Can Cincinnati Reds find way to keep Andrew Abbott pitching all year?