RED MONDAY | A rough west coast trip, not-so-good Will Benson, Williamson update, Padres preview

Welcome to Red Monday a place for clear-eyed analysis of how the Reds are doing and where they are headed. 

Last Week |  West Side Gory 


The Reds traveled from San Francisco to Phoenix to take on the Diamondbacks club that had swept them in Great American Ball Park the previous week. 

  • Monday After battling back from behind to take a late-game lead, Reds closer Alexis Diaz gave up two runs in the 9th for a heartbreaking 6-5 loss. The Reds offense showed the first sign it had broken out of the team slump by banging out eleven hits and drawing five walks. Jonathan India, in the leadoff spot, had two singles and a free pass. Tyler Stephenson, Jeimer Candelario and Mike Ford also had two hits. Ford’s triple was the first of his big league career. Spencer Steer doubled in two runs. Graham Ashcraft lasted only four innings, putting ten runners on base and giving up three runs. After the Reds took a 5-4 lead in the 8th, relievers Justin Wilson and Lucas Sims combined to hold down the Diamondbacks in the 8th. But Diaz hit the first batter he faced, then walked the bases loaded before former Red Kevin Newman singled home a pair of runs. 
  • Tuesday The Reds evened the series with a 6-2 win. Hunter Greene pitched deep into the game completing seven innings on 101 pitches. He gave up two runs on five hits and a walk. Brent Suter and Buck Farmer each threw a shutout inning to close out the game. The Reds scored two runs in the 4th, 5th and 6th. Key contributors were Will Benson, with a two-run homer, along with Tyler Stephenson and Jeimer Candelario who doubled. Stuart Fairchild, Jake Fraley and Santiago Espinal each drove in a run. 
  • Wednesday Andrew Abbott gave the Reds a great chance to win the series, holding Arizona to one run over seven strong innings. Mostly throwing his four-seam fastball, Abbott allowed only four hits and two walks. He struck out four. But the Reds offense came up with only one run, a solo homer from Santiago Espinal. While the bats produced a bunch of hard-hit balls, only two others went for hits to go along with two walks. After recording two outs in the8th, reliever Fernando Cruz gave up back-to-back doubles and the D-Backs winning run. The second hit was a bloop into right field with a 7% hit probability. Hard to criticize Cruz for that. 

With the Reds limping to the finish line of the long road trip, the last place they needed to end up was Dodger Stadium, but that’s where they landed, for a four-game series with the first-place Dodgers. 

  • Thursday Everything came together for a Reds 7-2 win in the series opener. David Bell and the Reds coaching staff designed an “opener” pitching strategy that held the powerful Dodgers offense in check for eight innings. Nick Martinez entered the game in the 3rd inning and threw five shutout innings, giving up only one hit and no walks. Will Benson led off the game with a 439-foot home run. Later that inning, Tyler Stephenson doubled home Elly De La Cruz. Two innings later, De La Cruz doubled and scored on a Stephenson single. The Reds extended the lead to 7-0 in the 9th on doubles by Jeimer Candelario and Stuart Fairchild, a Benson walk and a single by De La Cruz. The Reds shortstop had four hits, four stolen bases and scored three runs. 
  • Friday The Reds bullpen let a tied game get away in a 7-3 loss. The Dodgers jumped out to a 3-0 lead off Reds starter Frankie Montas, who went five innings. But the Reds bats battled back, tying the score 3-3 in the 6th innings. Stuart Fairchild and Tyler Stephenson hit solo home runs. But after a shutout inning of relief by Lucas Sims, Fernando Cruz and Alexis Diaz each gave up two runs. 
  • Saturday With the offense shut down by Dodger pitcher Walker Buehler, the Reds dropped their fourth game of the road trip, 4-0. David Bell’s lineup managed just three hits and no walks and recorded its lowest (by far) xwOBA of the season at .118. Jake Fraley had the only extra base hit with a triple on a play the Dodger outfielders collided. Graham Ashcraft gave up three runs in five innings with five strikeout and three walks. Carson Spiers covered the final three innings, allowing one run. Spiers had replaced reliever Justin Wilson who went on the IL with left shoulder tightness. 
  • Sunday The Reds wasted another strong start from Hunter Greene, dropping the finale of the series and the road trip 3-2 in extra innings. Greene threw 105 pitches, 68 of them fastballs that averaged 98.8 mph, his highest velocity of the season. Greene went 6.1 innings, limiting the Dodgers to two runs. He struck out eight and walked two. Fernando Cruz, Sam Moll, Emilio Pagan and Alexis Diaz covered the next 2.2 innings with shutout relief. Diaz stayed on to pitch the 10th and after recording two outs, he gave up a two-strike single to the $700-million man, Shohei Ohtani. The Reds lineup was stymied by a series of three left-handed relievers. Mike Ford went 0-for-5 as did Elly De La Cruz. 

The Reds finished the 3-7 road trip with a 19-28 record, 8.5 games behind the first-place Brewers. 

This Week | Back Home

The Reds return home from the 10-game road trip for a 9-game home stand, starting with three against the San Diego Padres. 

  • Tuesday (6:40 pm)
  • Wednesday (6:40 pm) – Bark in the Park
  • Thursday (1:10 pm)

Then they face the LA Dodgers for three more, after the two teams played four at Dodger Stadium last week. 

  • Friday (7:10 pm) – City Connect Friday
  • Saturday (7:15 pm) – FOX National Broadcast
  • Sunday (1:40 pm) 
Opponent Preview  | San Diego Padres 

The Reds visited San Diego earlier this season, dropping two of three games to the Padres as a winning-Reds April turned into losing-Reds May. David Bell’s team hopes to return the favor at GABP. The Padres have lost four of five, including being swept by the last-place Colorado Rockies. 


The Padres offense ranks #7 out of 30 teams in run production (wRC+) at 111. The Reds check in at 27th (83). San Diego ranks in the top ten in batting average and middle of the pack in walks and power.

The Padres acquired two-time batting champion Luis Arraez from the Miami Marlins in a rare early-May trade. Arraez hits for average but does little else – way below average in walks and power and doesn’t steal bases. Fernando Tatis Jr. remains the face of the San Diego Padres, leading the club in offense, stolen bases and contributing Gold Glove defense in right field. Uber-prospect Jackson Merrill 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. Manny Machado is still looking to get back to his 2022 MVP-caliber self. Veteran infielder Jurickson Profar is off to a great start.

Starting Pitching

Tuesday – Joe Musgrove (31, RH) is coming off the IL having been out since May 1 with elbow inflammation. It’s Musgrove’s ninth season as a major league pitcher and his fourth with the Padres. FanGraphs projected him for a 3.77 ERA this season and after eight starts the veteran pitcher has an xERA (6.31) and xFIP (4.27) well above that. 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. Musgrove’s most recent start on May 1 was against the Reds. He went six innings giving up four hits, no walks and striking out nine.

Wednesday – Michael King (28, RH) pitched 115 games for the Yankees but started only nine. He came to the Padres as part of the Juan Soto trade. He’s now made nine starts for the Padres with an xERA of 4.38 and xFIP of 3.83. The Reds did not face King in the previous series. King has done a good job suppressing exit velocity and hard-hit balls. He’s also in the 70th percentile for strikeouts. King has walked a few, though, falling to the 23rd percentile of major league pitchers. He features four pitches including a four-seamer (93 mph) and sinker (92 mph). Off-speed, he throws a changeup and sweeper. The changeup, which he uses mostly against lefties has been his best pitch, with a 42% whiff rate.

Thursday – Matt Waldron (27, RH) is in his second season for the Padres after throwing 41 innings in ’23. He was projected for a 4.60 ERA in ’24 and after nine starts has a 3.90 xERA and 4.14 xFIP. 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. Waldron faced the Reds on April 29 and allowed one earned run in six innings.


Robert Suarez (33, RH) is the Padres closer. He has a clear calling card — a 98.6-mph four-seam fastball that he’s thrown on 80% of his pitches. The league is batting just .098 against it. He throws a sinker that’s just a tick slower. 2024 is 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 twelve saves and a +8 run value on his fastball.

Not-So-Good Will Benson 

Forty seven games into the 2024 season and we’re still trying to figure out what Will Benson can offer at the plate. 

The Reds acquired Benson in a trade with the Cleveland Guardians in February of 2023, giving up a second-round pick in Justin Boyd and pitcher Steven Hajjar as a player to be named a month later. The 25-year-old Benson had been the Guardians first-round pick (14th overall) in 2016.

Benson broke camp with the Reds in 2023 but after going 1 for 21 in his first eight games, was sent back to Triple-A for five weeks. After returning to the Reds, he was a different player, batting .292/.383/.532 with a wRC+ of 141. Benson blasted 11 homers and swiped 19 bases. 2023 appeared to be his breakthrough season.

After continuing that pace at the start of the 2024 season, Benson has cooled way down. Since April 9 — his last 130 plate appearances — Will Benson has hit .174/.269/.322 with a wRC+ of just 67.

What has happened?

First, the Reds roster hasn’t allowed manager David Bell to protect Benson from his extreme platoon split. Over his career, Benson has a wRC+ of 124 against right handed pitchers but just 20 against lefties. With last season’s roster, Bell was able to platoon Benson with Stuart Fairchild and Nick Senzel. Benson took only 13% of his plate appearances against lefties (44 out of 329).

But this season, with the Reds failing to acquire right-handed outfield help and TJ Friedl’s injuries pressing Benson into duty in centerfield, Benson has already been to bat more times against lefties than he did all of last year. Of Benson’s 172 plate appearances, 49 have been against southpaws, or 28% of his PA. That’s barely any platoon at all, with the Reds having faced LHP in 35% of the team’s PAs.

Also, Benson’s main weakness at the plate — strikeouts — has reappeared. After he returned from his demotion to the minors last season, he reduced his K% to a still-too-high 29.5%. That was a significant improvement for Benson, as Matt Wilkes laid out in his analysis of Benson’s 2023 emergence:

“Strikeouts have always been a part of Benson’s game, which is partly why his prospect status diminished in the Guardians organization. The former first-round draft pick always had power, speed, and a Votto-like sense of the strike zone. But he couldn’t put the ball in play often enough, which made him essentially a three-true-outcome hitter. Benson hit .210/.334/.427 in his first five seasons as a pro, striking out in 34.7% of his plate appearances.”

Benson had lowered his strikeout rate to 24% when Matt wrote that piece in July. But over the last two months of the 2024 season (150+ PA) Will Benson struck out nearly 35% of the time. So far in 2024, he’s whiffed 39%. He’s still had good plate discipline, with a chase rate in the best 83rd percentile. But when he swings, his contact rate is just 69%. That’s 8% below league average. That’s separate from the platooning issue, as Benson has struck out in 42% of his at bats against right-handers.

A new approach at the plate — moving from an open stance with a large leg kick to a neutral stance with smaller kick — seemed to help Benson. This year, he’s tightened his stance even more to the point where you would call it closed and has virtually eliminated the leg kick.

So, two factors that are contributing to Will Benson being less productive this year are (1) he’s seeing more than twice the number of plate appearances with left-handed pitchers and (2) he’s striking out more against right-handed pitchers. When he has made contact this year, he’s hit it hard, with a higher xwOBA on balls with contact than last season.

Checking In | Brandon Williamson

Brandon Williamson made his second start of the ’24 season yesterday. He’s recovering from a left shoulder injury that landed him on the 60-day IL. 

The Reds acquired Williamson from Seattle in the March 2022 trade for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez. Williamson’s dazzling 2021 performance had caught the eye of the Reds front office. The tall left-hander struck out 37% of the batters he’d faced, fifth-highest rate among minor league pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched. That rate his 42% in the seven starts he made after being promoted to Double-A. Williamson found himself in several Top-100 prospect lists.

But, in his first year in the Reds organization, Williamson took a huge step backwards, seeing his strikeout rate plummet and walk-rate soar. His ground-ball rate dropped to 33%. Williamson had lost both command and dominance. Still, that November the Reds added him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. They hoped for a rebound 2023 season for Williamson in Triple-A.

After eight less-than-encouraging starts in Triple-A, the Reds were forced by injuries (Nick Lodolo), ineffectiveness (Luis Cessa) and both (Connor Overton) to promote Williamson to the major leagues. Despite local media spring training hype, at Louisville Williamson had walked 20 batters in 34 innings. His ERA was 6.62 and xFIP 6.36. But with pre-season plans falling apart, the Reds were desperate. Williamson debuted on May 16 and made 22 starts for the Reds after that. When the season ended, Brandon Williamson had started more games than all but Graham Ashcraft.

Williamson’s debut season was up-and-down but overall much better than he had pitched in 2022 or in his eight Triple-A games. Williamson’s xFIP was 8% higher than league average and xERA in just the 26th percentile. His strikeout rate (20%) ended up in the 27th percentile although his walk rate was a bit better than average. Williamson was also in the bottom quarter of pitchers for ground balls.

Williamson’s first 2024 rehab start was at High-A when he faced 10 batters over three innings. He allowed just one hit, striking out four and walking none.

Yesterday, Williamson started for the Triple-A Louisville Bats against the Columbus Clippers. He threw 56 pitches over 3.2 innings. He gave up five hits and one walk while striking out four. Of the 56 pitches, 26 were cutters, 18 four-seam fastballs and the rest classified as changeups, curves and sweepers. Williamson’s four-seamer averaged 92.8 mph, almost exactly the same as his velocity with the Reds last year. His emphasis on the cutter is consistent with our report on his development of that pitch last season.

As I wrote last week, the Reds rotation had been solid, even good. But then Nick Lodolo landed on the IL with a pulled groin muscle. Thursday was Lodolo’s rotation spot and David Bell used an opener strategy to good effect against the Dodgers. Reports on Lodolo indicate his IL stint might have as much to do with load management as anything. He’s expected back at the end of his 15 days.

If the rotation plays out that way and as long as everyone stays healthy, Williamson can stay with Louisville for a while. Once he gets up to a full pitch count, he’ll likely be the next man up if and when the Reds need another starter.

[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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