RED MONDAY | Sleepy offense, Nick Lodolo update, Padres preview

Welcome to Red Monday at Reds Content Plus, a place where you can count on clear-eyed analysis of how the Reds are doing and where they are headed.

Last Week | Sputtering Offense

Fernando Cruz, high-leverage ace

The Reds began the week with a four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies without Jonathan India and Jake Fraley, who were sick. Add that to the absence of Matt McLain, TJ Friedl and Noelvi Marte and David Bell’s options were limited. 

  • Monday The good news? Hunter Greene covered seven innings taking pressure off a depleted bullpen. The not-so-good news? He gave up four earned runs. That might not have mattered if the Reds offense had done its part. But Phillies lefty Ranger Suarez and a couple relievers held the Reds to just two singles and a walk. The Reds lost the series opener 7-0. The Phillies had the nine hardest-hit balls and 12 of the hardest 13. Greene walked two and didn’t allow a homer. He also didn’t hit any batters. 
  • Tuesday The Reds got payback for the night before, slamming the Phillies 8-1 behind Andrew Abbott and the bullpen. David Bell brought Fernando Cruz in with bases loaded and one out in the 5th inning with the score 5-1. It was a super-high leverage spot and that’s how Bell has used Cruz (and his best-in-baseball splitter). Cruz struck out the dangerous Trea Turner and induced a fly out from JT Realmuto. The Reds offense was led by Elly De La Cruz (7th homer), Santiago Espinal (1st homer) and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who was three-for-four with two RBI. 
  • Wednesday The Reds scored four runs in the bottom of the 6th to erase a 3-1 deficit and went on to win 7-4. Nick Lodolo was not as sharp has he’d been in his previous two ’24 starts, giving up three earned runs on six hits and three walks in five innings. Six Reds relievers covered the final four innings. Fernando Cruz came on in another tight spot. The Reds led 5-4 in the 7th and the Phillies had runners at second and third with one out. Cruz retired the next batters on his splitter, which he threw on 6 of his 11 pitches. Will Benson, who was leading off, hit his third homer of the year. Santiago Espinal continued his hot streak, going two for three plus a sac fly, driving in three. Elly De La Cruz had three hits and stole three bases. 
  • Thursday This game was largely decided by a couple swings in the 3rd inning. Bryce Harper smashed a two-run homer 384 feet into the right field moon deck. His blast capped off an inning where Reds starter Nick Martinez gave up five hits, four of which were for extra bases, and made the score 4-0 Phillies. The Reds responded in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases off Zack Wheeler. Spencer Steer worked a nine-pitch at bat, fouling off four pitches before shooting a 96-mph Wheeler four-seamer to the right field fence. Nick Castellanos made an awkward grab, staggering into the wall and preserving the shutout. The Reds managed only three hits in the 5-0 loss. 

After the series split with the Phillies, the Reds flew to Texas for a three-game series against the defending World Series champion Rangers. 

  • Friday The Reds squandered a strong start by Graham Ashcraft with another poor offensive showing, losing the series opener 2-1. Ashcraft went 6.1 innings and gave up only one run on seven hits and no walks. He gave up a solo homer to Rangers rookie Evan Carter. Lucas Sims gave up another homer in the bottom of the 8th, giving the Rangers the lead. The 7-8-9-1 hitters (Candelario, Espinal, Fairchild and Benson) went 0-for 14 with seven strikeouts. Three singles rarely gets the job done. 
  • Saturday The offense finally came to life against old friend Michael Lorenzen, led by Jonathan India’s four-hit game, in an 8-4 win. India drove in four of the Reds’ first five runs, capping it off with his first home run of the year, an opposite-field shot. Will Benson hit his fourth home run of the season, while Nick Martini added a pair of sacrifice flies. That was more than enough support for Hunter Greene, who threw seven shutout innings and allowed only one hit. It marked the first time in his career that he’s pitched seven innings in back-to-back games. Brent Suter made things interesting by giving up four runs in the ninth inning, necessitating Alexis Diaz to come in for the save.
  • Sunday The Reds got in an early hole when Andrew Abbott allowed four runs in the first inning on a pair of home runs. Despite narrowing the gap with a three-run sixth inning, Cincinnati couldn’t complete the comeback bid, ultimately falling 4-3.

The Reds finished the week with a 15-13 overall record, third in the NL Central behind the Brewers (17-10) and Cubs (17-11). The upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier.

This Week | Padres and Orioles

The Reds stay on the road with a three game series in San Diego against the Padres. The Padres finished with an 82-80 record in ’23, identical to the Reds. They notably trimmed their payroll from $255 million to $167 million. Part of that was Nick Martinez opting out of the last two years of his contract, trading $16 million for a $26 million agreement with the Reds.

The Padres are off to a 14-17 start in the NL West.

  • Monday (9:40 pm)
  • Tuesday (9:40 pm)
  • Wednesday (4:10 pm)

Then the Reds return home to face the first-place Baltimore Orioles in a weekend series.

  • Friday (6:10 pm) – City Connect, Fireworks
  • Saturday (6:40 pm) – Star Wars
  • Sunday (4:10 pm) – Alexis Diaz Bobblehead
Checking In  | Nick Lodolo

Nick Lodolo makes his fourth start of the season tonight. The 6’6″ lefty missed all but seven starts last year with several injuries including a season-ending stress fracture in his tibia. Lodolo was sidelined for more than two months his rookie season with calf tendinitis. He made 19 starts in ’22 and seven in’23. Given such a spotty ability to stay on the field, what can we say about the 26-year-old Lodolo as a big league pitcher and how has he performed by comparison in early 2024? 

First, it should go without saying that we’re dealing with tiny sample, possibly atypical samples. 2022 was his rookie season. He may have been injured for some of his 2023 appearances. And Lodolo has only made three starts in 2024. 

Lodolo has been strangely consistent over his three partial seasons. His strikeout rate has ranged from 28-30%. His ground-ball rate has been steady, between 43-46%. His fastball velocity has remained steady, right around 94 mph. His pitch portfolio has been the model of consistency, with 55% fastballs, 30% sliders and the rest his changeup. His spin rates have been similar, as have his whiff rates. Lodolo’s fastball “rises” up in the zone. Here he whiffs Mike Trout up in the zone.

All three pitches of Lodolo’s pitches have extreme horizontal movement. 15 of Lodolo’s 20 strikeouts this season have come on his curveball. This is hilarious and yet look familiar. 

One metric where Lodolo has shown a bit of variance is his walk rate. Over his rookie season, it was around 8.8% or 36th percentile. But last year and this year so far it has been closer to 6%, or better than average.

Bottom Line: You could pick at nits about this stat or that stat being up or down. But given the sample size limitations, it’s better to stick to the big picture. Here it is: Nick Lodolo has been a high-strikeout, above-average ground ball pitcher in the 3.50-3.60 range. So far, his return in 2024 has been consistent with the way he pitched in previous seasons. And that’s good news. 

Padres | Position Players 

The Padres offense ranks in the top ten in run production, walks, batting average, home runs and hitting for power. 

Statistics through Thursday games

Fernando Tatis Jr. is very much the face of the San Diego Padres. Despite missing 20 games, the shortstop-turned-outfielder blasted 25 homers, stole 29 bases, scored 91 runs and won the Gold Glove for his defense in right field. 

Jackson Merrill is another uber-prospect with a 60 FanGraphs rating and checks in at #11 in the overall MLB Pipeline ratings. Unlike a few other much-acclaimed rookies, Merrill has gotten off to a good start and has positive metrics playing center field.

Jake Cronenworth is having a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2023 season that came on the heels of a head-scratching seven-year contract extension. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in xwOBA.

Manny Machado is still a force in the middle of the Padres lineup, though he’s still looking to get back to his MVP-caliber self from 2022. His strikeout rate is currently a career-worst and up by nearly seven percentage points from his career average.

Padres | Pitchers

The Reds miss staff ace Dylan Cease this series, as he pitched Saturday. Yu Darvish (neck) is on the IL. Every starter in the Padres rotation is right-handed, but they have four left-handed arms in the bullpen, led by Yuki Matsui and former Red Wandy Peralta.

Matt Waldron (27, RH) is pitching in his second season for the Padres after throwing 41 innings in ’23. He was projected for a 4.60 ERA in ’24. Waldron throws a knuckleball for a third of his pitches and backs it up with a 91-mph four-seamer, sinker and sweeper. So he’s a soft tosser. Waldron didn’t face the Reds last year. In 25 innings, he has 23 strikeouts and ten walks.

Randy Vasquez (25, RH) is a product of the Yankee organization and came to the Padres in the blockbuster deal for Juan Soto. Vasquez pitched 37 innings in pinstripes in ’23 splitting time between starting and relieving roles. FanGraphs gives him a 40+ prospect rating. Vasquez throws a 95-mph four-seam fastball plus a sweeper, and sinker to right-handed batters as well as a change to lefties.

Joe Musgrove (31, RH) is the veteran of the Padres rotation, making his seventh start in ’24. It’s his ninth season as a major league pitcher and his fourth with the Padres. FanGraphs projected him for a 3.77 ERA this season. Musgrove doesn’t have what you’d call a dominant out-pitch. Instead, he throws seven different pitches, basically anything you can name. At the speediest end is a 92-mph fastball. After his first six starts, Musgrove’s xERA is 6.73.

Robert Suarez (33, RH) is the Padres closer. No, he’s not related to Phillies starter Ranger Suarez who just dominated the Reds or former Reds infielder Eugenio Suarez. Robert Suarez has a clear calling card — a 98-mph fastball that he throws on 75% of his pitches (matching his uniform number). It’s his first year as a closer but the Padres felt confident enough in his services they let Josh Hader head off into free agency. He already has nine saves and a +3 run value on his fastball.

[Photos: Reds and Brewers Facebook]

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

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