The Real McCoy

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy shares his thoughts on the Cincinnati Reds
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McCoy: Stephenson struggles in season debut as Reds complete woeful road trip

Robert Stephenson’s season debut with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday afternoon was less than poetic. In fact, he continues to be a riddle.

After a dominant season at Class AAA Louisville, Stephenson was called up to face the New York Mets and looked a whole lot like the pitcher that has perplexed the Reds ever since he was drafted out of high school in 2011.

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His main issues always have been command and control and that was his problem Wednesday during the Reds’ 8-0 loss to the Mets at Citi Field, a game during which left fielder Phillip Ervin was the last Reds pitcher.

Stephenson lasted only four innings and gave up three runs and three hits while walking five (two intentional).

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The most befuddling at-bat came in the fourth inning. With runners on third and second, catcher Devin Mesoraco was walked intentionally to fill the bases and bring up opposing pitcher Jacob deGrom.

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Incredibly, Stephenson walked deGrom on four pitches. Ball three and ball four came on breaking balls.

After Stephenson departed, broadcaster George Grande asked partner Chris Welsh, “Your report card on Stephenson?” Said Welsh, “Not good. He looks like the same Robert Stephenson the Reds sent to the minors.”

If nothing else, Stephenson should have received a pitching tutorial from his opponent, deGrom.

He threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the first 20 batters and more often than not deGrom was ahead 0-and-2.

For his six innings, deGrom held the Reds to no runs, four hits, walked one and struck out 10. He turned a 5-0 lead over to his bullpen and held his breath.

Why?

He leads the National League with a 1.77 earned run average, but entered the game with a 5-7 record. Why? Because 10 times this season he turned a lead over to the bullpen and ended up with a no-decision.

He didn’t need to fret on this day. Three Mets relief pitchers held the Reds to no runs and three hits over the last three innings, including the University of Dayton’s Jerry Blevins, who went 1-2-3 in the eighth with two strikeouts.

Stephenson could learn loads by watching what deGrom did early in the game.

Phillip Ervin and Scooter Gennett both singled with one out in the top of the first, but deGrom struck out Eugenio Suarez and Gennett was caught trying to steal second.

Mason Williams walked to open the second, but deGrom went 1-2-3 after that with two strikeouts.

Billy Hamilton singled to begin the third and stole second, but once again deGrom went 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. Then he retired the last nine he faced.

On the flip side, Stephenson had no escape act in his backpack. He walked Michael Conforto to start the second and with two outs he scored on Austin Jackson’s double.

He walked Jose Bautista to start the fourth and Brandon Nimmo doubled. After Jackson struck out, Mesoraco was walked intentionally to fill the bases. That’s when Stephenson walked deGrom on four pitches to make it 2-0 and a third run scored on Amed Rosario’s sacrifice fly.

The Mets added two runs off Michael Lorenzen in the fifth on doubles by Conforto and Nimmo and a single by Jackson to make it 5-0.

Three more Mets runs came across in the eighth against Keury Mella after he walked two, giving Reds pitchers 11 walks on the day. Nimmo doubled both runs home with his third double of the game. Austin Jackson then doubled for the second time and it was 8-0.

Frustrated manager Jim Riggleman then brought in left fielder Ervin to pitch, a guy who can’t seem to hit a cutoff man when he is in the outfield. But he ended the inning with one pitch, a grounder to shortstop.

The Reds lost two of three in New York and finished their sojourn through Detroit (0-2), Washington (1-3) and New York (1-2) with a 2-7 record. Since 2013 they are 8-26 against the Mets.

After an off day Thursday, the Reds open a three-game series at home Friday night against Arizona. Joey Votto, who did not play in the last two games in New York due to his sore knee, is expected back in the lineup, as is Preston Tucker, out two games after getting hit on the foot Monday with a pitch. 

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