Graham Ashcraft broke into a smile and a laugh when manager David Bell walked to the mound to remove him in the seventh inning.
It was the only time all night he wasn’t in complete control.
Ashcraft twirled a gem for 6 1/3 innings to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-1 victory against the San Francisco Giants. He permitted four hits, two walks and zero runs to earn his first big-league win.
"It’s something I’ve been working toward for a long time," said Ashcraft, who was a sixth-round pick in 2019. "For it to finally happen, it’s awesome."
He didn’t look like a guy who was making his home debut in his second career start. He wasn’t bothered by a two-hour, eight-minute rain delay. He didn’t pitch around any hitters in the Giants’ lineup. With his wife, parents, step-parents and two brothers in the crowd at Great American Ball Park, he just looked ready to attack.
Consider Ashcraft’s eight-pitch first inning. He didn’t throw a pitch below 99 mph. He threw two cutters above 101 mph.
“The guy is throwing 100-mph cutters and 100-mph sinkers," Reds second baseman Matt Reynolds said. "I don’t want to face him. I can’t imagine the Giants were having too much fun facing him.”
That was just the start for the 24-year-old Ashcraft in his 92-pitch performance. He totaled only one strikeout and five whiffs, but he was constantly in control all night. He threw a first-pitch strike to each of his first 12 batters. After the third inning, he had thrown 36 pitches and 27 strikes.
He kept his pitch count low to receive the opportunity to pitch into the seventh inning, something he hadn’t done since July 24, 2021 at Double-A Chattanooga. He had only two innings when he threw more than 13 pitches, content with inducing weak contact.
"If I can go out there and just get ground balls all the time instead of punching tickets, I’ll take that all the time," Ashcraft said. "Strikeouts are great and everything, but so is having a low pitch count and going longer in the game."
Ashcraft may not have received the same hype as fellow rookie starting pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, but that doesn’t diminish his talent. There are few pitchers on the planet who can throw a 101-mph cutter. His slider generates a ridiculous amount of horizontal movement.
Plus, he’s a machine at inducing ground balls, which helped him escape a jam in the second inning. After surrendering back-to-back singles, he stranded two runners with a pair of ground balls to shortstop Kyle Farmer.
"It’s one step at a time," Reds Manager David Bell said. "Tonight was definitely a big one going against a good team, a good lineup, a lot of left-handed hitters. He pitched exactly how he wanted to and showed what he’s capable of."
In the sixth inning, a baserunning blunder by Mike Yastrzemski led to an inning-ending double play on a flyout and Ashcraft celebrated with a fist pump and a yell. Then it was the crowd of 19,000’s turn to roar when Ashcraft exited with one out in the seventh inning to a standing ovation.
"It was awesome, especially for my family to be able to see that and getting to feel that after my first start being (in Toronto)," said Ashcraft, who became the first Reds pitcher to throw six shutout innings in one of his first two career starts since Milt Wilcox in 1970, according to Baseball-Reference.
Reynolds, the No. 9 hitter in the Reds lineup, staked Ashcraft to a 2-0 lead in the third inning. He lined an RBI double into the right-center gap, which bounced once in front of the outfield wall. Still on second base four batters later, Reynolds scored on Tyler Stephenson’s check-swing ground ball that didn’t roll out of the infield grass.
It was a do-or-die play for Giants second baseman Donovan Walton, who unsuccessfully tried to flip the ball to first base with his glove. The throw was high, taking first baseman Wilmer Flores off the bag, and Reynolds never stopped running as he rounded third base. Reynolds celebrated with a fist pump when he beat the throw to the plate.
“We had a meeting today about baserunning and being aggressive and taking the extra base when we can," Reynolds said.
Brandon Drury gave Ashcraft an even bigger cushion when he pummeled a solo homer on a fastball in a 3-0 count from Giants lefty Carlos Rodón. The 399-foot blast was Drury’s eighth of the season, which leads the team.
When Ashcraft smiled at Bell in the seventh inning, he wanted to stay in the game with one out and a runner on first base. But he smiled knowing what he accomplished.
"It’s fun seeing a guy in his second time, he smiled a lot in Toronto too, to be able to enjoy it," Bell said, "and to pitch like that at the same time is great."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Graham Ashcraft dominant during home debut in Reds win vs. Giants