Stephan's command issues lead to loss vs. Texas

July 17th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- After Saturday’s loss, Guardians manager Terry Francona said one of his biggest goals for Sunday was to get and Emmanuel Clase in the game, no matter what the score was. But even that didn’t come to fruition.

Stephan was handed the ball with a three-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, but went on to allow four runs that led to the Guardians’ 6-5 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field.

With the game ending after the top of the ninth, Clase stayed in the ‘pen and the Guardians walked away with their first four-game losing streak of the season. They had been the only remaining MLB team to not experience a four-plus-game losing streak this season.

Every team is fresh off of a four-day break. As much as players welcome that rest, there’s a fine line between getting some rejuvenation and collecting dust. Francona knew that because Clase and Stephan hadn’t pitched in the first two contests, he was bordering on the latter and wanted to assure that didn’t happen.

It ended up working out that the Guardians owned a three-run lead in the late innings that have been given to Stephan and Clase this season. Not only would they get work, but they could be used in their traditional roles and Clase could have had an opportunity to pick up a save.

Instead, Stephan recorded a quick first out, but immediately lost the strike zone. He walked the next two batters and the Guardians tried to avoid the domino effect by having a brief meeting on the mound.

However, Adolis García sent a 2-1 pitch to the warning track in left field for a double, bringing in two runs to cut the Rangers’ deficit to one. With the potential tying run on third and the infield in, Josh Jung served a single through the left side, plating two runs, including the go-ahead run that inevitably led to the Rangers’ victory.

“Everyone had the same layoff, so I feel like it’s all the same. [I] just wasn’t very good,” Stephan said of the time since his last outing. “I just didn’t get ahead, didn’t get in good counts and just didn’t finish any hitters off and they made me pay.”

Stephan’s season has been strange compared to what he did last year. In 2022, he emerged as one of the most reliable relief arms in the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen. He more than earned the right to reclaim that spot coming into ‘23. But this year, he hasn’t missed as many bats and hitters are squaring him up much more frequently.

He has lost some velocity and his walk rate is up. In all of last season, he blew just two saves. So far this year, he has blown six.

It’s been more inconsistent for Stephan this year, the same way the bullpen was all weekend long. On Friday, the ‘pen gave up 12 runs, which was the first time in nearly two years that the group allowed more than 10 runs in a game. On Saturday, the relievers rebounded to toss three scoreless frames. Then on Sunday, it unraveled again.

The Guardians had to turn to Sam Hentges to finish the eighth inning -- an arm they were probably hoping to avoid using. Normally, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but because the ‘pen had a rocky series and is now heading into a scheduled bullpen game on Monday, it wasn’t the ideal scenario.

But it was critical that starter Tanner Bibee was able to grind through six innings on Sunday, despite having a line drive hit his foot and another line shot just miss the top of his head. He gave up just two runs on five hits and threw 98 pitches.

“I think that one extra inning is really helpful for the ‘pen, especially because they were kind of getting worked up a little bit,” Bibee said. “So, I think it was good for me to go six today.”

The Guardians are planning to start Xzavion Curry on Monday in Pittsburgh to open the bullpen game, as the team attempts to piece together pitching in place of an injured Shane Bieber. But the Guardians haven’t lost confidence that they’ll be able to figure everything out in the meantime.

“We always trust our bullpen,” Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan said. “If it’s the seventh inning, we got a one-run lead, I feel like we got it. They’ve been so good. Sometimes they slip up a little bit and it happens. … It’s just baseball. It’s part of it.”