A top-100 prospect who had more strikeouts than anyone else in the minor leagues this season, left-hander Andrew Abbott brought a lot to the mound in his major-league debut for the Cincinnati Reds in Monday's 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. What impressed manager David Bell the most about Abbott might have been his ability to control the inevitable emotions that can distract many players in their first big-league game.
"Andrew allowed himself to be a little nervous, which you should be, the whole day," Bell told reporters at Great American Ball Park. "It probably took him until the second or third inning, and once he did that, he was just really in command the rest of his game."
Bell certainly would know, also having put in 12 seasons as a major-league player. And on the Bally Sports Ohio broadcast, analyst Barry Larkin related the start of his MLB career in August 1986, long before he became a star shortstop with the Reds and a Hall of Famer.
"I don't think my feet touched the ground for the first week in a half at least," Larkin recalled.
Abbott went through something similar, but he pulled himself together quickly against the Brewers and showed why the Reds have high expectations for him.
The 24-year-old allowed a hit and four walks to go with six strikeouts over six innings in a victory that prevented a Milwaukee sweep and stopped Cincinnati's four-game losing streak. Abbott's stat line was not only better than anyone could expect, but it also was unlike any combination for a left-hander in a debut in MLB history since at least 1893.
Andrew Abbott emulated Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels & Billy Wagner growing up
In a postgame interview, Abbott conceded he was nervous against the first few batters and was not trusting his stuff. His father David, seated among the crowd with other family members at GABP, said he could tell that his son "was nibbling."
Laughing when he replied, Abbott said: "That sounds like him. He's a reliable source. I personally don't like the four walks. That's a tough stat. That was a little bit of nerves, but (bouncing back) was also me saying, 'I don't like walking people, so let's get after it and get in the zone. My stuff is good enough to get outs. So let's go right at 'em.'"
Overall, Abbott threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 23 batters. It's a reaction that bodes well for Abbott's future in the majors.
"It took an inning or two to settle in and, if you're human, that's very normal," Bell said. "I was glad to actually see that. His ability to lock it back in was very impressive."
A second-round pick (53rd overall) just two years ago, Abbott became the second Reds player from the 2021 MLB Draft to debut in 2023, with first-rounder Matt McLain coming aboard May 15.
A relief pitcher in his first three seasons at Virginia, Abbott was ignored by MLB when he was eligible to be drafted in 2020, in part because the draft was shortened to five rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing a four-pitch arsenal that includes a sharp curveball, he ascended to the No. 95 overall prospect at MLB.com before the start of this season.
Abbott had 90 strikeouts and 17 walks in 54 innings between three outings at Double A and seven at Triple A. Having turned 24 last Thursday, he was called up to show what he could do against big leaguers.
Larkin noted that Abbott's best skills lie less with velocity and more with other things pitchers can do to get outs — like changing the eye levels of opposing batters. Against the Brewers, Abbott's four-seam fastball topped at 95.3 mph (probably because of adrenaline and an extra day of rest, he said) with a 92.9 mph average. He also got eight called strikes in 22 pitches with his curve for a 41% called-strike-plus-whiff rate, well into elite territory.
Also, the Brewers came in as the weakest performers against left-handed starting pitchers in the league. Abbott simply took advantage.
David Bell's assessment on Andrew Abbott's impressive MLB debut
Abbott's debut was the culmination of a childhood dream, he said, one that few actually get a chance to live out. His father coached him into his teens before Abbott joined a travel ball squad coached by former major leaguer Billy Wagner.
Under Wagner, Abbott said he developed a bulldog mentality on the mound and the kind of moxie that he's kept even in a transition to starting pitcher. Abbott said he sent Wagner a text once he got word of his promotion, but he had, so far, neglected his phone after the game. It no doubt overflowed with messages from well-wishers. Abbott expects to get a chance to respond soon.
Bell liked the message Abbott sent to the world in his debut — from the stuff, to the vulnerability, to the capacity to overcome it.
"We got to see a little bit of everything that Andrew was capable of doing on the mound," Bell said.