This weekend, for the first time since 2021, the Cincinnati Reds entered a series that had real stakes. The Reds knew that they had a chance to climb into first place in the NL Central during the four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and they embraced that opportunity.
In Game 1, the Reds couldn’t hit. Then in Game 2, the Reds got one of their worst starts of the season.
At Great American Ball Park on Saturday, in front of a crowd of 25,485, the Brewers beat the Reds, 10-8. Starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft allowed 10 runs in four innings, and his disappointing May turned into a terrible start of June.
On Friday, when the Reds lost in the 11th inning, they only managed three hits and left the go-ahead run in scoring position in the 8th, 9th and 10th innings. Then on Saturday, Ashcraft allowed nine hits and two home runs while also walking four batters. Now, the Reds won’t win the series or take advantage of a chance to close the gap against Milwaukee.
Last weekend, when the Reds swept the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, former Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart called the Reds a talented and promising young team that’s just lacking in experience. The Reds have one of the youngest lineups in baseball with rookies like Matt McLain and Spencer Steer, second-year players like Will Benson and Stuart Fairchild and young players pressed into prominent leadership roles like Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson and Nick Senzel.
The first two games of this weekend’s series were reminders of the Reds’ room to improve.
The Reds got the go-ahead run on base in the ninth inning. A two-run single by second baseman Jonathan India in the sixth inning and an RBI single by first baseman Steer in the ninth got the Reds back into the game against the Brewers’ bullpen, and then Milwaukee turned to star closer Devin Williams.
With the bases loaded, the Reds gave new outfielder TJ Hopkins a chance for the first at-bat of his career. Hopkins, who wasn’t in big league spring training but hit his way into the Reds’ plans for this season, drew a walk to make it a 10-8 game. But Reds shortstop Matt McLain, who smoked two line drives earlier in Saturday’s game, struck out to end it.
Takeaways from Reds vs. Brewers
1. Ashcraft was caught in a pattern of struggling to throw strikes, and then leaving a pitch over the middle of the plate that the Brewers hit for a line drive. Ashcraft’s command wasn’t there, and the Brewers made hard contact eight times against him in just four innings. Reds manager David Bell made a mound visit himself to talk to Ashcraft in the third inning, but Ashcraft went on to walk the next batter and then allowed a grand slam.
2. Ashcraft has almost abandoned his sinker, leaving him as a two-pitch pitcher who isn’t working the entire strike zone. Ashcraft took the league by surprise when he started the season with a new, dynamic slider. Hitters have caught up to that adjustment, and now Ashcraft has to make an adjustment of his own.
3. Reds right fielder Jake Fraley hit his sixth home run of the season. He entered Saturday in a slump, hitting just .139 over his last 10 games. In the third inning on Saturday, Fraley drove a splitter that landed above the strike zone and pulled it over the right field fence.
Injury updates, roster moves
The Reds placed outfielder TJ Friedl on the 10-day injured list with a low grade hamstring strain, which took place in Boston on Tuesday. The Reds called up outfielder TJ Hopkins, a young player who hit his way into becoming a prospect this season. Hopkins improved his timing, his consistency and his balance at the plate to tap into the best version of himself as a hitter. Hopkins, the Reds’ ninth-round pick in 2019, hit .341 with 7 home runs in Triple-A.
The Reds moved starting pitcher Nick Lodolo to the 60-day injured list. First baseman Joey Votto (rotator cuff/biceps) and outfielder Henry Ramos (hip) started rehab assignments on Saturday.
Reds outfielder Wil Myers (shoulder sprain) expects to start a rehab assignment next week. He hopes to be back on the Reds’ active roster around June 16.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Reds can’t make up ground in the NL Central, lose to the Brewers