Reds Option Graham Ashcraft

The Reds announced Thursday that they’ve optioned struggling right-hander Graham Ashcraft to Triple-A Louisville. His spot on the roster will go to reliever Emilio Pagan, who’s being reinstated after a stint on the 15-day injured list due to a triceps injury.

It’s the first time Ashcraft, 26, has been optioned to the minors since May 2022, when he was sent down a day after making his MLB debut in a spot start. The 2019 sixth-rounder started 19 games for Cincinnati in 2022 and another 26 games last year. Were it not for a calf strain and a stress reaction in his foot, he’d have been ticketed for a full slate of starts in the Reds’ rotation last season.

Though Ashcraft has struggled with consistency, he’s at times looked the part of a viable third or fourth starter in the Reds’ rotation. He opened last season with a dominant 2.00 ERA in his first six trips to the hill, and while his K-BB profile didn’t support quite that level of success, he was showing huge ground-ball tendencies and finding success with a new cutter and revamped slider that looked far better than his 2022 version of the same pitch.

A disastrous stretch followed, wherein Ashcraft was shellacked for 47 earned runs in 33 innings over his next eight starts — including outings that saw him yield ten, eight, seven (twice) and six earned runs. Lost as he looked in that span of six weeks, Ashcraft then rattled off a dozen starts of 2.58 ERA ball to close out his season, averaging 6 1/3 innings per start along the way and never allowing more than three runs in any one start. The big righty still had a subpar strikeout rate in that excellent run but offset that flaw with improved command and strong ground-ball tendencies. It was a promising finish to a season — one that seemed to speak louder than his ultimately pedestrian 4.76 ERA.

The 2024 season has again been a struggle, though not to the extent of last year’s eye-popping slump. Ashcraft currently sports a 5.05 ERA with a well below-average 17.4% strikeout rate but a strong 7.5% walk rate and encouraging 49% ground-ball rate. However, after averaging more than six innings per start down the stretch last year and pitching into the sixth inning in five of his first six starts this season, Ashcraft has struggled with efficiency of late. He’s pitched into the sixth just once in his past six trips to the hill. Though he’s averaging less than 4 2/3 frames per outing in this stretch, he’s done so while requiring an average of 89 pitches along the way.

Unsurprisingly, Ashcraft’s results have suffered. He posted a 3.63 ERA through his first six starts but has turned in a 6.83 mark since that time. His walk rate has spiked from 6.1% to 9%, and his strikeout rate has fallen from 20.1% to 14.3%. He’ll now try to get back on track in Louisville.

From a service time vantage point, Ashcraft’s demotion isn’t likely to alter his path to free agency. He entered the season with 1.136 years of MLB service, meaning he only needed another 36 days to reach two years and stay on track for free agency in the 2028-29 offseason. That said, he was on track to be a very likely Super Two player, making him arbitration-eligible four times rather than the standard three, and that’ll become unlikely if his stay in Louisville lasts more than a couple weeks.

The Reds will continue to deploy a rotation including Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Andrew Abbott and Frankie Montas. Veteran swingman Nick Martinez, signed to a two-year deal, could step back into the rotation in place of Ashcraft for the time being. Triple-A starters Connor Phillips, Christian Roa, Lyon Richardson and Carson Spiers are all on the 40-man roster and could represent alternative options, but Spiers is the only one of that group who’s pitched particularly well in Louisville this season. He’s made four long relief appearances for Cincinnati already this season, totaling 13 2/3 innings of 3.29 ERA ball.

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Title: Reds Option Graham Ashcraft
Author: Steve Adams

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