On May 25th Graham Ashcraft took the mound against the Quad Cities River Bandits and he allowed five earned runs in just 1.2 innings before he exited the game. It wasn’t his best outing, but it may have lit an absolute fire in the big right-hander. His next start came five days later against the same River Bandits squad and he shut them out for 5.0 innings. That was the first of six consecutive starts where Ashcraft didn’t allow an earned run – four with the High-A Dayton Dragons and then two more after he was promoted to the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.
Sunday night he took the mound against the Birmingham Barons for the second time in the week. His streak without an earned run was sitting at 37.0 innings. The first three innings of the game went as well as you could expect – he had a perfect game going and his streak ran to 40.0 innings. It was in the bottom of the 4th inning that he was a few feet from the streak ending as a long fly ball was caught on the warning track right in front of the wall.
A leadoff walk in the 5th inning broke up the perfect game, but a strikeout and two ground outs kept the no-hitter going. The next inning featured another leadoff walk, but a ground ball double play erased that runner and then a ground out ended the inning to again keep the no-hitter going and the scoreless streak ran to 43.0 innings.
The pitch count was rising, but Graham Ashcraft headed back to the mound for the 7th. For the third consecutive inning he walked the leadoff hitter. After a visit from pitching coach Rob Wooten, the righty went back to work. It wasn’t to be on this night, the no-hitter at least, as the next batter singled over the shortstops head and into left field to break up the no-hitter and put men on 1st and 2nd. That was the night for Ashcraft as he was removed from the game.
His streak was now on the line and the outcome at this point was entirely out of his hands and in the hands of reliever Hector Perez. Things got dicey, quickly, as Perez walked the first batter he faced on four pitches to load the bases and Ashcraft’s streak ender was 90 feet away with no outs. Perez then proceeded to strike out the next two batters on just seven pitches. The last out needed wasn’t easy. Joel Booker worked a full count, with the bases loaded, but Perez won the battle on pitch number seven as he struck him out swinging to end the inning and preserve the streak for Ashcraft, who got a high five from his manager Ricky Gutierrez as he (Ashcraft) climbed the dugout steps to await his team as they came off of the field.
The season as a whole has been incredible for Graham Ashcraft. He’s now made 11 starts between his two stops, is 7-1 with a 1.53 ERA, has one of three 9-inning complete games in the minor leagues this season, has thrown 58.2 innings and allowed just 33 hits, and has allowed just two extra-base hits all season long – both doubles. Opponents are hitting just .164/.251/.174 against him on the year.
During his current 43.0 inning streak without an earned run he’s been even better (duh!) – he’s given up just 17 hits and held batters to a .123/.197/.130 line with 49 strikeouts. The last time he allowed an extra-base hit was on May 30th.
This season Graham Ashcraft has been doing two things at a high level that usually don’t both happen at the same time: Rack up strikeouts by the bunches and get ground balls by the bunches. Pitchers can usually be very good at one, but it’s rare that they are very good at both. When you find a guy who is good at both, you tend to find a guy who is dominant.
Looking at the average pitcher in Major League Baseball, he’s going to strike out 23.8% of the batters he faces and he’s going to have a ground ball rate of 43.4%. While the comparison isn’t even because Graham Ashcraft is not facing big league hitters right now, here’s how he is doing in those categories: 32.3% strikeout rate and a 53.3% ground ball rate.
Here’s the list of pitchers in Major League Baseball who have struck out at least 30% of the batters they’ve faced and have a ground ball rate of at least 50% since the start of 2020 and have thrown 75+ innings:
Did you see the list? It’s empty. No pitcher has been able to reach that threshold out of the 156 pitchers to throw 75+ innings in the last two seasons.
Here are the five pitchers who have at least a 46% ground ball rate and at least a 30% strikeout rate:
- Corbin Burnes
- Sonny Gray
- Scott Barlow
- Brandon Woodruff
- Shane Bieber
It’s possible that you have heard of those pitchers before.
Getting strikeouts means there’s no chance of a hit taking place. That, of course, is very good when it comes to preventing runs. Keeping the ball on the ground means there’s a far less likely chance of a ball leading to a hit that’s more than a single. That, too, is very good when it comes to preventing runs. It’s a beautiful thing when the two meld together.
At some point in the future the streak is going to come to an end. But it’s been a heck of a ride to follow along and watch. Currently rated as the 20th prospect in the Reds farm system – he’s going to rocket up the list when the next update comes out after the draft (which takes place July 11-13, and you can check out all of the pre-draft scouting reports we’ve been writing here).
Update: 2:15pm ET
A few hours after this article was published Minor League Baseball announced that Graham Ashcraft had been named as the Double-A South Pitcher of the Week. It’s his second consecutive week winning the award, and the third time he’s won the award this season – he won it once while he was with the Dayton Dragons in the High-A Central, too. He made two starts and threw 11.0 shutout innings with just 3 hits allowed, walked 7, and he struck out 11 batters.
Other Player of the Week winners in the Cincinnati Reds Farm System
- Graham Ashcraft – May 31-June 6, June 21-27, June 27-July 4 – Dayton/Chattanooga
- Carson Spiers – June 7-13 – Dayton
- Nick Lodolo – May 17-May 23 – Chattanooga
- Hunter Greene – May 10-May16 – Chattanooga
- Brian Rey – May 4-9, May 10-16 – Dayton
- Lyon Richardson – May 4-May 9 – Dayton