Lost in the shadows of Cincinnati’s 9-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, which completed the Pirates’ first sweep of a series with the Reds since September 2013, was the relief job turned in by Jackson Stephens.
The rookie right-hander came out of the bullpen in the fourth inning with the Reds already trailing, 7-0, a runner on first base and one out. He gave up two hits in that inning, pushing that runner across the plate, and five more over the next 3 1/3 innings, but he allowed just one more run.
More important, he allowed interim manager Jim Riggleman to avoid staging a parade of relievers from the bullpen to the mound.
“He did a good job,” Riggleman said before Monday’s opener of a three-game series against St. Louis at Great American Ball Park. “He saved the bullpen. He allowed us to not have to use (David) Hernandez or (Jared) Hughes or (Amir) Garrett or (Michael Lorenzen). That’s a big goal, getting multiple innings.”
“I felt fine,” said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-hander, who tied his career-longest appearance he set on May 18 against the Chicago Cubs. “I was just trying to take it one hitter at a time. I was able to keep going out there, and (Riggleman) kept sending me out there.”
Stephens, who is 2-2 with a 4.82 earned-run average in 28 innings over 18 games, pitched into and out of trouble during his outing, an outcome much different than his previous appearance. The Pirate roughed him up for six hits and four runs, including a home run, in one inning of Friday’s 12-1 loss.
“I’ve struggled in those situations where I allow runners to get on and don’t get outs,” he said. “Only allowing one run (Sunday) is a real confidence-boost. I was dialed in with what (catcher) Tucker (Barnhart) was putting down. I was just worried about executing pitches.”
He’d earned some down time.
“We’ll stay away from him (Monday) and (Tuesday),” Riggleman said.
Under the weather: Spending so much time standing on the field in the rain during the Pirates series may have caught up with Scooter Gennett.
Cincinnati’s All-Star second baseman wasn’t in Riggleman’s starting lineup on Monday.
“He’s just getting a day,” Riggleman said. “He’s not feeling great. He’s a little under the weather.”
Gennett came out of the weekend ranked third in the National League with a .319 batting average after going into the All-Star break with a league-leading .326 mark. He went 0-for-8 in the three games against the Pirates.
Plate time: Rookie Brandon Dixon replaced Gennett in Cincinnati’s starting lineup. Dixon was recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Saturday to replace the injured Alex Blandino.
Riggleman had a choice of Dixon or Dilson Herrera, who was recalled on July 6. The tipping point for Riggleman was Dixon had more recent experience with regular plate appearances for the Bats.
“He’s been playing more lately in terms of at bats,” Riggleman said. “We’ll try to keep him as current as possible, as far as seeing pitches.”
Dixon, who was with the Reds from May 22 through July 3, hit .346 with 18 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 23 runs batted in and nine stolen bases while starting at least two games at each of five positions in 49 appearances with Louisville.
Six-man trending: Riggleman was asked if right-hander Homer Bailey’s reluctance to pitch out of the bullpen, which is prompting the Reds to at least briefly a six-man starting rotation, made the situation awkward.
“It would be more awkward if it was totally unheard of,” Riggleman said. “A couple of teams have talked about going to a six-man rotation, so it’s not as awkward as if we were the only team doing it.
“With so many off days, more guys are pitching on five days rest than before,” he added. “We’re playing 10 straight days, so guys will be getting five days (rest).”
Bailey (1-7, 6.68 ERA), who is scheduled to start Tuesday’s 7:10 p.m. game against St. Louis, hasn’t pitched since May 28 while dealing with right knee inflammation, which prompted time on the 10-day disabled list. He went 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA in six starts and one relief appearance during a rehab stint with Louisville.
Sal Romano’s return from the bullpen to the rotation in time to start Wednesday’s 12:35 p.m. series finale leaves the Reds with six starting pitchers, a situation that could change if right-hander Matt Harvey is traded as many expect before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
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