Nick Lodolo, the Reds top pick in the 2019 draft, joined the Dayton Dragons on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Reds top draft choice to make Dragons pitching debut

Nick Lodolo had to be told about the first time he was picked in the major-league June draft. That was three years ago and he was a recent high school graduate. He was surprised the Pirates had chosen him.

A talented 6-foot-6, left-handed pitcher, the La Verne, California, native instead had pledged his baseball allegiance to Texas Christian University.

“I really wanted to get the college experience and I wanted to play college baseball,” said Lodolo, the Cincinnati Reds’ No. 1 pick last month who joined the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field prior to Wednesday’s game.

“I knew that I could still play professional baseball after that and getting that college education, now, I’m only a year away instead of having to get all four (years).”

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Lodolo is the latest – and 18th – Reds top draft choice to call the Dragons home at some point in their early pro career. He was promoted from rookie ball at Billings on Monday and will make his Dragons pitching debut as a starter on Thursday night against the visiting Great Lakes Loons in the second of a brief three-game home series.

Pitcher Hunter Greene was the Reds’ top pick in the 2018 draft and began that season with the Dragons. He’ll miss this entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery to his pitching shoulder. Third baseman Jonathan India, another first-rounder last year, also played at Dayton in 2018. He was promoted from Class A advanced Daytona to Double-A Chattanooga on Monday.

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Lodolo, was the seventh overall pick in the June draft and was the first pitcher selected. It was posted by His signing bonus was $5.43 million, according to mlb.com.

Lodolo, 21, had limited action at Billings, pitching 11.1 innings, striking out 21 and issuing zero walks (2.38 ERA). Like Billings, he’ll continue to be on a pitch count with the Dragons.

“It’s the same approach,” he said. “You don’t have to do anything better. Just make good pitches and let (batters) get themselves out.”

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He left TCU after an outstanding junior season that saw him be named a second team All-American. He had 131 strikeouts in 103 innings (2.36 ERA) and a 6-6 record this past season. He also was at his best against the best teams, including eight shutout innings and 13 strikeouts against No. 4 Texas Tech, a Big 12 Conference rival and College World Series participant.

“It’s very exciting to see those first-round guys come here and be able to manage them,” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said. “It’s exciting to see how they develop and hopefully they help the big-league club at some point. I hear a lot of good things about him.”

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Lodolo took a chance at TCU, opting for education over the risk of injury, which could have devalued his draft status. Instead, he’s one year away from obtaining a communications degree, has three years of high-level college baseball experience and apparently is on the pitching fast-track for the parent-club Reds.

“That’s something you dream about as a little kid,” he said. “A month and a half ago I was playing college baseball and now I’m here. It’s crazy where baseball will take you and now I’m here and I’m excited for it. Billings was great, but it’s nice to move up.”

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