CINCINNATI -- When the Reds made the recent callups of starting pitchers Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed from Triple-A Louisville -- Stephenson for the rotation and Reed for the bullpen -- the moves were made to give each pitcher an extended chance to show what he can do.
On Wednesday, during a 4-3 Reds loss to the Indians at Great American Ball Park that sealed a three-game series sweep and their fourth consecutive defeat, although he gave up the deciding run on Melky Cabrera's two-run homer in the sixth, Reed made the most of his chance by bailing out Stephenson with 3 2/3 innings of solid work.
"The way I pitched tonight was unacceptable. Can't happen," said Stephenson, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings, allowed two earned runs and issued four walks while throwing 57 pitches. "I had a really hard time tonight gripping the ball. As much as I don't want to give excuses, that's the God's honest truth. Obviously, I'm going to find a way between starts to figure it out, and throw more balls in the zone."
Stephenson was handed a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, with Preston Tucker's two-out, two-run homer being the big blow. But the right-hander all but squashed that momentum during a labor-intensive top of the second. He opened with a four-pitch walk to Jason Kipnis, all on fastballs -- followed by a wild pitch to Greg Allen and Allen's RBI single. With one out, Stephenson walked Indians starter Shane Bieber on four pitches -- the last three of them fastballs. A two-out, five-pitch walk to Michael Brantley marked Stephenson's 32nd pitch of the frame and brought an end to his night.
"It's command of the fastball. Not throwing enough strikes with the fastball and relying so much on the off-speed stuff," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's just got to do better."
Riggleman handed the ball to Reed with two outs in the second. The left-hander faced the minimum over his first 10 batters and retired eight in a row heading into the top of the sixth.
"Getting up quick in the second inning, that was the first time I've ever done that," said Reed, who allowed two earned runs on three hits and one walk with his 52 pitches. "I got loose. I was ready to go. It was not like I was rushed or anything; I was ready to go. I felt fine."
Cincinnati's 3-2 lead disappeared after Reed's leadoff walk to Yonder Alonso brought up Cabrera, who skied a two-run homer into the first row of seats in left field to put the Indians ahead for good.
"I almost pointed up in the air like you do on routine fly balls," Reed said. "I looked back, and I thought Tucker was underneath it, and he just kept going back, and it just happened to go out. Tough break."
On Monday, the day of his recall from the Minors, Reed pitched a scoreless inning against Cleveland. Stephenson, meanwhile, is 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in two big league starts since his return, with nine walks over 5 2/3 innings.
"Today, I felt really good coming out of the bullpen [before the game]," Stephenson said. "I thought everything was going to be great. Then it went the way it went."
Stephenson often endured command issues and inconsistency during his 33 big league games between 2016-17, but he seemed to find himself this season with Louisville, going 14-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 20 starts -- including 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA over his last seven starts. However, he was still prone to walks and acknowledged last week that walks were part of his game.
"Lately, the walks I've been issuing are not the walks I want to issue," Stephenson said Wednesday.
In 18 games (17 starts) for Louisville this season, Reed went 4-8 with a 3.92 ERA -- including a 2-0 record and 1.61 ERA over his last three starts. Though he has yet to have much success for the big league club, he's shown increased command and confidence, and that was on display against Cleveland.
"I felt like I threw a lot of strikes," Reed said. "I felt like I filled it up a little bit. I walked Alonso, I think, just nibbling around the edge there. I happened to throw four balls, and then the home run happened. But I felt good. I was throwing my pitches for strikes. I felt good and confident up there."
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MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Ninth-inning rally falls short:Billy Hamilton opened the bottom of the ninth with a single to center against lefty Brad Hand. Jose Peraza was next with a drive to right field that one-hopped the wall for a ground-rule double that put the go-ahead run on second base and the tying run on third.
Joey Votto then hit a routine groundout to first, and Hamilton had already been instructed to run on contact. He was easily thrown out at the plate by Alonso.
"I was pretty surprised," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. "That ball was in front of him. It was hit OK, but it wasn't hit that hard. I was surprised he came home. That was good for us. Took a break right there."
More than one thing backfired for the Reds on that play, because Peraza did not advance.
"[Hamilton] was going on contact, not just because it was early, but because what should happen is Peraza goes to third and we have [Eugenio] Suarez hitting against a left-handed pitcher there. That is what we wanted," Riggleman said.
The Reds managed to load the bases before pinch-hitter Curt Casali flied out to right field to end the game.
Suarez went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in the game, tying a club record that's been done eight times. Jay Bruce was the last Red to strike out five times in one game, on Aug. 28, 2014, against the Cubs.
HE SAID IT
"We're going to get a bad matchup either way. It's going to be [Tyler] Olson against [Mason] Williams or a righty against [Brandon] Dixon. But I felt like if we're going to see Hand and [Andrew] Miller, I'd just as well have Dixon hit there against a lefty, and later hit against a lefty." -- Riggleman, on why he put the left-handed-hitting Williams in the game in a double-switch in the top of the sixth for the third out, only to pinch-hit for him with Dixon in the bottom of the sixth when the Reds only have a four-man bench
Following a day off on Thursday, the Reds will remain at home to open a three-game series against the Giants at 7:10 p.m. ET Friday at Great American Ball Park. Anthony DeSclafani will make the start against Dereck Rodriguez for San Francisco. DeSclafani is coming off two strong starts, during which he is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA. He worked seven scoreless innings with three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts for a 3-0 victory against Arizona his last time out.