Pioneer notes: Lodolo off to rousing start

Reds first-rounder flashing potential in first outings with Billings

The seventh overall pick in June, Nick Lodolo has not allowed an earned run over his first 4 1/3 pro innings. (Paul Ruhter/Billings Mustangs)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to MiLB.com | July 3, 2019 11:00 AM

Fresh off a sparkling junior season at Texas Christian University, Nick Lodolo is adjusting to professional baseball.

That means fewer innings and way more bus rides.

"If it was a six-hour drive [in college], we were flying," the 6-foot-6 left-hander for the Billings Mustangs said. He was standing in front of the visitors' clubhouse in Missoula, which is a five-hour bus ride from Billings and another five hours from Idaho Falls, where the Mustangs just were. "But it's not bad."

There's much that is good. The lefty hit 95 mph with his fastball on June 25 in Missoula, showing the same form that dazzled the Big 12 in 2019: Lodolo went 6-6 but with a 2.36 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 108 innings.

The Cincinnati Reds noticed, taking Lodolo seventh overall in the 2019 Draft. The Mustangs' Derrin Ebert was aware of him as well.

"As a pitching coaching, I'm going to look at some of the top pitchers coming into the Draft," Ebert said. "We were really fortunate to land him. From what I've seen -- he's only thrown [three] starts here and a couple bullpens -- between the work ethic, his aptitude to take in formation and apply it on the mound, the sky's the limit."

That's the other big adjustment -- the innings. The Reds, like all Major League teams, put many pitchers drafted out of college on an innings restriction. For now, Lodolo is limited to 30 pitches, with the goal of pushing him to 45 or three innings of work in a couple weeks.

His three professional outings consisted of a scoreless inning on June 20, a four-out appearance on June 25 in which a couple Osprey got hits and scored -- neither run was earned, however -- and two scoreless innings, in which he struck out three, on Monday.

2019 MiLB include

"I really didn't think [my second outing] was bad," Lodolo said. "I just fell behind. I would be more concerned if I was missing big and everything. I was just missing a little bit. The main part is, I felt good. I'm just continuing to build back up and get back into a routine after getting three weeks off."

One day TCU was in the NCAA tournament, losing on a Sunday. The next day, June 3, Lodolo was drafted.

"I felt like it snuck up on me, because we were in regionals," he said. "I was mainly focusing on that."

"He's just getting his feet wet in professional baseball," Ebert said. "He's never been on a five-day routine. The pitching stuff is kind of secondary right now."

In Missoula, Lodolo broke out his changeup to go with his fastball and a slider that he says he turns into a curve at times. It's plus stuff -- not many Pioneer League pitchers are throwing in the mid-90s.

"Especially from the left side," Ebert said. "We had a little conversation about it. When you have the stuff he has, you can challenge hitters early in a count. He doesn't have to be so fine.

"Like I said, the pitching stuff is great. The personality, the character of the kid that I've seen so far -- that puts him over the top for me."

In brief

Road warrior: Mustangs outfielder Quin Cotton chalks up his slow start in Billings to adjusting to pro ball. "Things felt like they were going a million miles per hour, playing my first few games," he said. Whatever the case, he went 11-for-19 on Billings' recent road trip after hitting 2-for-14 (.143) in four games at home. The eighth-round pick out of Grand Canyon University is hitting .326 overall.

Power Chukar: Rhett Aplin, a first baseman taken in the 28th round in 2018 by the Kansas City Royals, didn't hit a single home run in 178 professional at-bats last season. But with the 2019 Idaho Falls Chukars, Aplin has a Pioneer League-best five homers in 46 at-bats and sports a 1.143 OPS.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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