McCoy: Lodolo dazzles in return as Reds blank White Sox

All the pre-game focus was on Garrett Crochet, the Chicago White Sox pitcher who dazzled in his first three starts of 2024 and some believe is the best pitcher in the American League.

They forgot about Cincinnati’s Nick Lodolo. They shouldn’t have. Lodolo re-adjusted the focus directly onto him Saturday afternoon in Guaranteed Rate Field.

The final was Cincinnati 5, Chicago 0 and it was all about Lodolo.

The Reds left-hander hadn’t pitched a game that meant anything in 11 months, 343 days ago, but the White Sox had to feel as if they were facing Cy Young or Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax.

Lodolo pitched five no-hit innings before giving up a leadoff infield bleeder of a hit to Robbie Grossman in the sixth.

That was it — 5 2/3 innings, 91 devastating pitches, 10 strikeouts, one hit, one walk and two hit batsmen. With 91 pitches, his day was done.

“It’s been a minute (since he pitched),” Lodolo told Bally Sports Ohio. “It’s been weird, and it’s not been easy. It’s frustrating, but crazy enough you learn stuff by not pitching.”

Whatever he learned, he gave the White Sox a lesson in swings and misses.

Lodolo mixed in well-located fastballs, curveballs that White Sox batters swung at as the pitches broke into the dirt and a change-up that should have had a back-up beeper on it.

“I was anxious to get out there, for sure,” he said. “I settled in there pretty good and just forced myself to keep going.”

His body had to be pumping pure adrenaline during his long-awaited return.

“Yeah, I guess I had a little more adrenaline than normal,” he said. “But nothing crazy. Honestly, my first start in spring training my adrenaline was through the roof. I was just anxious to get out there today.”

Lodolo’s curve ball was diving like an eagle swooping after a rodent and the White Sox were swinging at balls that nearly hit their back feet. And Lodolo hit two batters with that looping parabola of a curve.

“My last start (on rehab at Triple-A Louisville) wasn’t my best, so I worked on it a little bit this week. I was happy with it. It definitely did its thing and I hit a couple of guys with it. That’s not what I’m trying to do, but it’s the nature of the pitch.”

Crochet? He is one of the rare pitchers who went directly from college to the majors, no stops in the minors. His last start in college was for the University of Tennessee against Wright State.

In three previous starts this season he had given up four earned runs and eight hits over 18 innings and beat the Atlanta Braves.

During those 18 innings he struck out 21 and walked one. Since the pitching mound was moved back to 60 feet, six inches in the 1800s, only Crochet and Johnny Cueto (2008 with the Reds) had started a season with 20 or more strikeouts and only one walk.

Crochet is left-handed, an Achilles heel for the Reds, hitting .219 against southpaw starters. And when he struck out the side in the first, it looked ominous.

But the Reds exploded for five runs in the second, a rally that began with Jeimer Candelario’s double. Stuart Fairchild followed with a walk and Crochet issued his second walk of the season, a full-count free pass to Santiago Espinal, loading the bases.

Luke Maile picked on a first-pitch breaking ball and pulled a two-run single to left. Crochet then gave up another walk to — who else but Jonathan India — refilling the bases.

Spencer Steer quickly unloaded them with a three-run double to left field and it was 5-0.

And that was it … for both sides. Not only did the Reds not score again, but they also didn’t get a hit from the third through the ninth — five runs and four hits, all in one inning.

Lodolo knew he had a no-hitter after five innings, but also knew his day was nearly completed.

“Yeah, I did know. But I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t even the slightest bit worried about it,” he said. “I knew I was not going all nine. There was just no way. I just told myself I have to keep going as long as I can. That’s all I was worried about.”

While the Cincinnati offense did nothing other than the second inning, the three outfielders had a field day in the field. All three made stupendous catches — all diving, sliding grabs.

Right fielder Fairchild was first. He made a long-running dive and on the ground backhanded grab of a Gavin Sheets line drive in the fourth.

Left fielder Steer was next. He made a long sprint toward the infield and made a diving grab off the grass in the sixth, also off Sheets.

Then it was center fielder Bubba Thompson. He ran to the track in deep center and dove to rob Martin Maldondo.

And the game was a strike fest. With Lodolo’s 10 strikeouts and 10 by Crochet during his 4 2/3 innings, mix in all the bullpen strikeouts and the teams combined for 32 strikeouts. The Reds struck out 17 times and Chicago whiffed 15 times.

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