It started with 24-year-old lefty Nick Lodolo pitching seven scoreless innings, continued with 25-year-old Alexis Díaz retiring all six batters he faced and ended with 24-year-old Jose Barrero celebrating a walk-off hit.
Three players the Reds hope will be at the core of their rebuild were at the center of a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. It was the Reds' fourth shutout win and fifth walk-off victory of the season.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, facing Phillies closer Seranthony Domínguez, Albert Almora Jr. drew a one-out walk and Alejo Lopez hit a two-out single to set up Barrero’s heroics.
Barrero hit a groundball single up the middle, scoring Almora from second base. He was mobbed from the infield to center field. Jonathan India picked him up. Kyle Farmer rubbed his hair. Michael Papierski poured water over his head. He was showered with Gatorade in his on-field postgame interview.
"This game, it does reward you when you stay with it, when you stay strong when you continue to trust what you’re doing when the results aren’t there," Reds Manager David Bell said of Barrero, who entered the ninth-inning at-bat with a .170 batting average. "I know it’s one hit, it’s one game, but it was a big one. Everything can be built on and learned from. It’s nice when you get rewarded."
Joey Votto injury:Scheduled for shoulder surgery, to miss remainder of 2022 season
Reds top prospects:How Elly De La Cruz, others have performed
The Reds avoided being swept by the Phillies in their three-game home series and it all started with Lodolo in front of the crowd of 13,622.
Lodolo tossed a career-high seven innings and struck out eight. The frustrating part for him in his past couple of starts was he knew he was close to pitching deeper into games, but one or two batters kept derailing his outings.
His teammates, ones who left at the trade deadline and ones who remain, all rave about his potential. Not many left-handed starting pitchers spin curveballs with the same type of horizontal movement. That mixes well with his mid-90s fastball and changeup.
When Lodolo puts it all together, well, it looks a lot like he did Wednesday.
"He’s Chris Sale-ish," Almora said. "As he grows in this game and grows with confidence and maturity, grows his know how to pitch, it’s going to be a scary sight for hitters."
Remember, Lodolo is a rookie who pitched fewer than 70 innings in the minor leagues before he made his Major League debut. There will be plenty of learning experiences for him, but this was a day where he showed a playoff contender what he was about.
"It doesn’t get much better than that," Bell said. "You look at the quality of right-handed hitters that Nick faced, it takes the best stuff to stop a lineup like that and shut them out. It wasn’t easy. They had some runners on and a couple of innings he had to pitch around and get through. Just really impressive."
Lodolo avoided some of the same pitfalls from his last couple of starts. After giving up a two-out double and hitting a batter in the first inning, he struck out Nick Castellanos. He stranded two more runners in the second inning by inducing a pop-up versus Jean Segura, the Phillies’ leadoff batter.
It helped that Lodolo had the best version of his curveball, which a lot of people call a slider. Whatever people want to call it, Phillies hitters took 22 swings at it and whiffed 11 times.
"I felt like mainly my curveball was pretty good in the zone," said Lodolo, who threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of his 27 batters. "It was spinning good. I was able to get it down today, I think, was the biggest thing compared to last week."
Phillies right-hander Ranger Suárez, in his first full year as a starter, matched Lodolo every step of the way. Suárez permitted three hits in seven innings while striking out eight and walking two.
The Reds never had a runner touch third base against Suárez. They had two runners on base in the second inning, but Suárez froze Barrero with an elevated fastball for a called third strike on the inside corner.
Lodolo retired 10 of his last 11 batters; Suárez retired 14 of his last 16.
"I felt like I got better as the game went on," Lodolo said.
Aristides Aquino made the defensive play of the game in the fifth inning after a rough defensive showing in the fourth inning. He’s constantly shown he has all the tools to be an impact player, but he vacillated between star potential and a guy who is tough to keep on the roster.
In the fourth inning, Aquino dropped a ball when he ran toward the infield and attempted to make a sliding grab. Two batters later, he badly misread a pop-up, taking steps in the wrong direction, which allowed Darick Hall to reach on a single to shallow right field.
Lodolo pitched around the defensive miscues in the fourth inning, retiring the bottom two batters in the Phillies lineup.
With a runner on first base and one out in the fifth inning, Aquino chased a line drive from Alec Bohm. Aquino reached his arm out a couple of steps in front of the warning track to make the catch, then spun and fired a laser to first base to double off Rhys Hoskins for an inning-ending double play. Teammates waited to congratulate Aquino in front of the dugout as some fans rewarded him with a standing ovation.
"To be honest, I didn't think he was even going to catch the ball," Lodolo said. "Then he caught it. I was like, all right, he's pretty far. Then he threw an absolute B.B. to first. It was pretty incredible, honestly."
Beginning with the eighth inning, it turned into a battle of the bullpens. Alexis Díaz, who entered to face the top of the Phillies lineup, didn’t allow a ball out of the infield in his two innings, striking out three. Domínguez gave up a run, the walk-off hit to Barrero, for the first time in his last 12 appearances.
"Everybody was happy," Barrero said through an interpreter. "The whole team was very happy. It felt incredible to experience that."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Reds beat Phillies with Nick Lodolo start, Jose Barrero walk-off hit