In his 2023 debut, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo was a pitch away from imploding in the first inning. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, the Pirates scored a run and loaded the bases on Lodolo, who was up to 35 pitches in the inning.
Reds manager David Bell rarely lets a starting pitcher throw many more pitches than that in an inning. A pitcher topping 40 pitches in a single inning is usually a no-go. At Great American Ball Park against the Pirates, Lodolo was on the verge of getting pulled in the first inning.
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Then, against Pirates second baseman Rodolfo Castro, Lodolo saved his start and the game in a 6-2 Reds win in front of a crowd of 22,224. On Lodolo’s 35th pitch of the game, he trusted a breaking ball that hadn’t been working well for him and got Castro to flail at a pitch that looped into the dirt.
Lodolo went on to complete five innings on 109 pitches, allowing two runs and picking up the win.
Lodolo found his breaking ball as the start went on, and he limited his pitch count in his final four innings to stay in the game. His new changeup helped Lodolo get quick outs and avoid another jam like he had in the first inning.
On Opening Day, Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene threw 30-plus pitches in the third inning and then was pulled with one out in the fourth. Lodolo picked up some momentum as he got deeper into the game, and he earned the shot to set a career-high in pitches at 109.
The Pirates took an early 1-0 lead off Lodolo, but Reds leadoff hitter Jonathan India bounced right back with a solo homer to start the bottom of the first inning. Reds designated hitter Kevin Newman and left fielder Jake Fraley added homers as the Reds built a four-run lead.
Reds vs. Pirates takeaways
1. The Pirates drafted Newman in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft to be their shortstop of the future, and they gave up on him because he was just a contact hitter who couldn’t provide much power at the plate. The Reds traded reliever Dauri Moreta for Newman last offseason, and Newman started against his former team on Saturday.
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Last year, Newman hit two homers in 309 plate appearances. In 2023, Newman had a two-run homer in his first plate appearance of the year.
2. Fraley didn’t start on Saturday as the Reds faced a left-handed starting pitcher, but Bell saved Fraley on the bench for the ideal pinch-hit moment. The Pirates brought in right-handed reliever Chase De Jong in the sixth inning, and Bell had Fraley hit for left fielder Stuart Fairchild with two runners on base.
Fraley struggled in the first three years of his MLB career, but it clicked for him in the last two months of the 2022 season as he unlocked his ability as a power hitter. Against De Jong, Fraley pulled a line drive down the right field line to put the Reds up 6-2.
3. Bell shows his faith in relievers based on who he has them go up against. Following Fraley’s homer, Bell put reliever Buck Farmer into the game to face the top of the Pirates lineup.
Farmer took the loss on Opening Day, but he’s the Reds’ best setup man behind closer Alexis Díaz. In the seventh inning, Farmer breezed past the Pirates’ top three hitters with two pop outs and a groundout to keep the Reds’ four-run lead. Then he went back out and got two more outs in the eighth inning. Díaz then closed the game out with a scoreless ninth.
Stat of the day
Lodolo’s focus during spring training was developing his changeup into a viable third pitch. It worked well against the Pirates. He threw the changeup 12 times and got four swings and misses, and it complemented his fastball at the top of the strike zone.