Graham Ashcraft works hard in Reds defeat to Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Even when the Reds are battling in competitive games, they’ve found ways to fight back sometimes. Such was the case in Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.

Here are three key elements of the loss, Cincinnati’s fourth straight.

Home defense thwart Reds again
Reds reliever Derek Law was about to go a scoreless sixth inning in a 2-2 game when Mark Mathias hit a sharp but routine blow to Jose Barrero at shortstop. Barrero tossed the ball before picking it up and racing towards first base. It might have been on time for the takedown, but Jason Vosler couldn’t handle it as Connor Joe scored the go-ahead.

“It looked like it was a tough jump between the two,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Maybe it popped up a bit. (Barrero) actually did a really good job staying with him, and (he) had a good throw. I just found out, and I don’t care. didn’t realize it may have gone through the strap of Jason’s glove.”

The official goalscorer accused Barrero of an error, his second of the season.

“Obviously I didn’t want that to happen. It happened right there,” Barrero said via translator Jorge Merlos.

However, Barrero has struggled to play on the pitch this season. He entered the game with -3 strikeouts over average, ranking lowest among shortstops in the National League.

“I don’t feel different. I feel the same,” Barrero said. “I prepared the same way I did every other year.”

Barrero, 25, was known for his defense since being rushed to the big leagues from the High-A tier during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

“We talk a lot about his offense and his acclimatization to the league and adjustments. But the same goes for defense,” Bell said. “He has all the ability in the world to play there and be one of the best in the game. It’s just going to take time. He’s certainly working every day to become big there.”

Meanwhile, as of Friday, Cincinnati’s overall defense in the field this season had turned just 62% of ground balls into outs — the lowest percentage in Major League Baseball. The league average, according to Statcast, is 74%.

Ashcraft had to work harder
Bell made the decision to go to Law for the sixth inning after starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft threw 89 pitches in five innings. Ashcraft allowed two earned runs on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts.

Ashcraft had to battle often in the game, including a 10-pitch at-bat against Carlos Santana in the fourth inning that ended in a groundout.

“He just probably made too many deep counts to go any further than fifth,” Bell said. “Good start. The slider was good. He leaned on it a lot.”

Ashcraft gave up both runs in a long second inning. After Joe scored a single, a one-out walk to Jack Suwinski put the runners at first and second. Facing Mathias, Ashcraft became concerned for the runner at second base and hesitated.

“I could see how big his lead was. He flashed and I was surprised,” said Ashcraft, who then gave away a two-run single to Mathias. “The game sped up on me. … One of those games that turned out to be their way.”

Ashcraft allowed a first walk and a two-out walk in the fifth inning. It cemented the decision to go to the bullpen for the sixth.

“As much as I wanted to, I was gassed. Those are some really cringe-worthy innings,” Ashcraft said. “Of course I would come back, and I’m not going to say I don’t want to take the ball. They made the right call. They could tell I was starting to get gassed.”

Senzel gets a key shot
Since coming off the injured list and making his season debut on April 13, center fielder Nick Senzel hasn’t had much success. Entering Friday, he was batting .160 (4 for 25) in seven games, but he delivered an all-important hit against Pittsburgh in the fifth inning.

After Tyler Stephenson connected for Cincinnati’s first hit of the night with a single against Mitch Keller, Vosler tied the game. That set up Senzel, who cut a heavily lined RBI single off the right field line. Barrero followed with a sacrificial fly that tied the game.

“I really like his approach to home plate right now,” Bell said of Senzel. “I think he’s feeling good with the adjustments he’s made. We’re still young in the season here, especially for Nick. He started a bit late, but he’s getting more and more comfortable at the marble.”

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