RC+ Notebook: Reds showing strong plate discipline, rehab updates, and pitching matchups vs. Phillies

While the Cincinnati offense is far from the league’s best, the group has proven to be scrappy and willing to grind out at-bats in the early part of 2023. Through Wednesday’s games, the Reds rank ninth among all MLB teams in walk rate (10.2%) and 14th in on-base percentage (.327). They also have the fourth-lowest chase rate as a team (26.2%).

Much of that production has come from the top of the lineup. Jonathan India has a .420 on-base percentage as the patience he showed at the plate during his rookie year has resurfaced. Jake Fraley has gotten on base in nearly half of his plate appearances (.462 OBP). Spencer Steer (.390), Tyler Stephenson (.383), and T.J. Friedl (.395) are all well above average, too. India, Fraley, and Steer all have walk rates above 10%.

Per Statcast, Steer has the eighth-lowest chase rate among all hitters with at least 25 plate appearances (14.5%). Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are two of the hitters in front of him. Along with Steer, Stephenson, India and Wil Myers are in the 70th percentile or better in chase rate. Fraley, Myers, India, and Steer are all in the top 30% of hitters in walk rate. Stuart Fairchild has also showed strong plate discipline off the bench with four walks and a 17.2% chase rate in 17 plate appearances.

It’s wholly unsurprising that India, Friedl, Fraley, and Stephenson — the top four in the lineup on most nights — have combined to score 27 of the team’s 49 runs. Well over half of the Reds’ runs (63.3%) have been scored by the top four hitters in the order, the second-highest mark of any MLB team.

Of course, the flip side is that the lineup is quite top-heavy. The Reds’ bottom four hitters, regardless of the specific personnel on a given night, have combined for a dismal 42 wRC+, and much of that is carried by Steer, who has batted seventh against right-handed pitchers. Only the Mets have received less production out of their eight and nine hitters than the Reds (14 wRC+).

Injury updates

The Reds currently have five players on rehab assignments at Triple-A Louisville, all at various stages in their recovery process.

Joey Votto has scuffled at the plate, to say the least. Through Tuesday, he’d played in eight games and was batting only .125/.194/.250 with a 55.6% strikeout rate in 36 plate appearances — that’s a 9 wRC+, in case you were wondering. The 39-year-old showed encouraging signs on Wednesday, reaching base in all four trips to the plate in Votto-like fashion (single, three walks). Remember, Votto is recovering from not one but two serious surgeries to repair the rotator cuff and biceps in his left arm. His struggles upon return, especially at his age, are hardly surprising. Votto and the Reds may choose to take the full 20 days permitted for his rehab assignment, which would keep him from making his big-league season debut until April 22.

Nick Senzel looks to be close to joining the Reds. He’s hitting .240/.406/.440 in seven games and 32 plate appearances (126 wRC+). The 27-year-old has played center field, third base, and left field as he prepares to transition to a utility role.

Luke Weaver will make one more rehab start before joining the Reds rotation, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. He threw four no-hit innings with four strikeouts and two walks on Sunday. Weaver should line up to start against Toledo on Friday or Saturday and could replace either Connor Overton or Luis Cessa in the Cincinnati rotation afterward. While it’s no sure thing that Weaver will be an effective starter again, there’s at least some hope he has something left in the tank. At the very least, he’s a more experienced MLB starter than Cessa and Overton, and he certainly has better stuff.

Lucas Sims and Tony Santillan could soon provide bullpen reinforcements.

Sims (back spasms) made his second rehab appearance on Wednesday, striking out two and walking one in a scoreless inning. His fastball velocity seemed fine, as he was sitting at 94.5 mph and maxed out at 96.0. For reference, that average velocity was just a tick below Sims’ healthy 2021 season (95.1) but better than last year when he pitched through injury (93.5).

Santillan (recovery from stress fracture in back) has made three appearances, striking out four and giving up three runs on two hits and two walks in 2.2 innings. The right-hander seems to be healthy, as his average fastball velocity was 96.6 mph in his last outing and he touched 97.8. His heater averaged 96.2 mph in 21 games with the Reds last year.

Perhaps the best news on the injury front came from Tejay Antone, who is sidelined until the second half of the season with a flexor strain in his right forearm and hasn’t pitched since August 24, 2021 after undergoing his second career Tommy John surgery.

Weekend matchups

For the second and final time this season, the Reds will match up against the Phillies. After losing two of three games in Philadelphia last weekend, the Reds will look to get even in a four-game series at Great American Ball Park. The Phillies went 1-2 in a three-game series against the Marlins to start the week.

  • Thursday: Bailey Falter (LHP) vs. Nick Lodolo
  • Friday: Taijuan Walker (RHP) vs. Connor Overton
  • Saturday: Matt Strahm (LHP) vs. Graham Ashcraft
  • Sunday: Aaron Nola (RHP) vs. Luis Cessa

The Reds will start the weekend by facing two pitchers they saw less than a week ago in Falter (5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 2 K) and Walker (4.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 5 BB, 5 K).

Matt Strahm will take the mound for the Phillies on Saturday. The 31-year-old is in his eighth big-league season and pitching for his fourth different team. He’s primarily pitched in relief (183 appearances) but has occasionally served as a starter (27 games). Before this season, Strahm had started one game since 2019, and that was as an opener in 2021. With Ranger Suarez and top prospect Andrew Painter currently injured, Strahm is getting a chance to serve as the Phillies’ fifth starter.

Nola is the co-ace of the Philly rotation along with Zack Wheeler. He posted a career-high 6.3 fWAR in 2022, with a strikeout rate in the 85th percentile and a walk rate in the 99th. That earned him a fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. A free agent after the season, Nola is looking to replicate that performance in 2023 with a hefty payday looming. The 29-year-old throws five pitches (four-seam, curveball, sinker, changeup, cutter), with his curveball holding the highest Stuff+ grade. He commands all five pitches very well, leading all starters in Location+ last year.

Featured photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.