If there was a silver lining in a dark season for the Cincinnati Reds last year, it was the emergence of three rookie starting pitchers who could be the core of the team for years to come.
Hunter Greene made his big-league debut April 10. Nick Lodolo’s debut followed three days later. Graham Ashcraft’s debut came on May 22.
None of the three pitched well enough to help the Reds avoid a 62-100 season, but all three pitched well enough to give fans desperate for a reason to hope a sliver of optimism heading into the 2023 season.
“It’s extremely exciting to watch,” said Greene on Tuesday during a Zoom interview with reporters from Goodyear, Ariz. “I know us three are extremely excited to be together. I think it is really special. Not a lot of teams have this young core. We’re the youngest rotation in the league. We talk about it every day.”
Last year, pitching coach Derek Johnson brought the three together, Greene said, and brought up the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. That group made the Braves a perennial contender throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Even if the young Reds pitchers are a long way from reaching that level, they liked the comparison.
“You obviously want to look at it as a collective unit, as a starting five,” Lodolo said, “but we’re three younger guys who came up together. We’ve got good friendships all over the team, but us three are pretty close. We talk about it. There’s no secret. It’s good internal competition between us all, and I know all three of us are pulling on the same side of the rope as everybody on the team is.”
Catcher Tyler Stephenson, who grew up rooting for the Braves, likes the comparison but said the Reds trio throws harder.
“You look at those three guys and what they did last year in the first season, and how much they accomplished and how they finished down the stretch, it shows a lot,” he said. “Now that they’ve kind of gotten their feet wet, they know that they belong. It’s gonna be exciting to see their big jump in year two. It’s going to be fun to be a part of it.”
Greene, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, was 5-13 with a 5.44 ERA last season. He’ll be 23 on Opening Day and will turn 24 in August.
Ashcraft turned 25 on Saturday. He was a sixth-round pick in 2019. He was 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA in 19 starts. His ERA took a hit late in the season when he allowed 16 earned runs in 12 innings in his last three starts.
Lodolo, the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, turned 25 on Feb. 5. He was 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA last season. He pitched his best at the end of the season. He was 1-2 with a 2.48 ERA in his last six starts.
Ashcraft said the group wants to build success by staying together on and off the field.
“One of the best ways to have success,” he said. “is to make sure everybody’s rooting for each other but also holding each other accountable.”
SPRING TRAINING OPENER
Saturday, Feb. 25
Reds vs. Guardians, 3 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410