Lodolo turns in strong performance in return start

Published 12:04 am Sunday, April 14, 2024

CHICAGO (AP) — When it was over, Nick Lodolo smiled. It was only one game, but it meant a lot to the lanky left-hander — and the Cincinnati Reds.

Lodolo gave the Reds a lift in his first big league start in almost a year. He struck out 10 while pitching 5 2/3 innings of one-hit ball in a 5-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.

If the 6-foot-6 Lodolo can stay healthy, he could become a key part of Cincinnati’s rotation. But he was limited by injuries in the past two years.

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“I feel way more prepared than I’ve ever been,” he said. “Just the things I’ve done for my body and everything to put myself in the best position is definitely the best it’s been in my career, so I’m excited to see that keep going.”

Lodolo made seven starts for Cincinnati in 2023 before he was sidelined by a stress reaction in his left tibia. He pitched in two spring training games in March, but he began the season on the 15-day injured list because of a left calf issue.

The crisp afternoon in Chicago was his first major league appearance since May 6, also against the White Sox. He got his first win in exactly a year after making his big league debut on the same date in 2022 — his mother’s birthday, too.

“First, it was just so great to have him back out,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s been almost a year, and everything Nick has gone through, he just couldn’t have handled it any better. I mean all along the way, he still found a way to be a great teammate. He knew he was going to come back, but it can be a long road.”

Right-hander Carson Spiers was optioned to Triple-A Louisville to make room on the roster for Lodolo. Bell said Spiers will rejoin the rotation for the minor league club.

The 26-year-old Lodolo was working on a no-hitter before Robbie Grossman led off the sixth with a grounder back up the middle. Second baseman Santiago Espinal knocked the ball down, but he was unable to make a play.

He got some defensive help when Stuart Fairchild robbed Gavin Sheets of extra bases with a diving catch in the gap in right-center in the fourth. Spencer Steer made a sliding grab to take a hit away from Sheets in the sixth.

He hit two batters and walked one, but he threw 62 of his 91 pitches for strikes.

“Nick today was just, it felt like every single pitch had a purpose and he made them pretty uncomfortable I thought,” catcher Luke Maile said.

Lodolo was selected by Cincinnati with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft out of TCU. He had a 3.66 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings in his first year in the majors, but he also missed a chunk of that season because of a lower back strain.

Healthy again, he thinks he can make a difference with his only big league team.

“It could mean a lot,” he said. “If I’m going out there and I’m doing everything I possibly can to put us in the best position to win, I mean that’s my job. And I feel like I’m doing that. Like I said, I’m going to reap the benefits of all those things that I’m doing to put me in the best spot.”