NEW YORK -- Sometimes a rotation vacancy is filled by a Triple-A pitcher who happens to be available. Sometimes, it's for the person who deserves it most. On both counts for the Reds, that pitcher is Robert Stephenson.The Reds called up Stephenson on Wednesday to start vs. the Mets and
NEW YORK -- Sometimes a rotation vacancy is filled by a Triple-A pitcher who happens to be available. Sometimes, it's for the person who deserves it most. On both counts for the Reds, that pitcher is Robert Stephenson.
The Reds called up Stephenson on Wednesday to start vs. the Mets and make his season debut. Right-hander Jesus Reyes was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.
"I'm definitely excited to be back here," said Stephenson, who was originally scheduled to start for Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday. "I feel like I made a lot of progress since I've been down there. I feel really comfortable about being back."
Stephenson, 25, was 11-6 with a 2.87 ERA in 20 starts for Louisville. In 113 innings, he's given up 74 hits and 57 walks while striking out 135. He's tied for the International League lead in wins and is second in strikeouts.
But Stephenson has taken his success to another level lately, going 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA over his last seven starts. In those 44 innings, he's allowed 23 hits, two homers, 17 walks and 55 strikeouts.
During his previous start at Columbus on Friday, Stephenson allowed one hit with three walks and a career-high 13 strikeouts over six innings.
"It's time to get him here," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's really done very well, probably the last 5-6 starts, a couple of dominating starts. We've got to see what he can do. Robert is a guy that's been around a long time with us, up and down, and we're going to put him in the rotation here and see what he does with it. You could not ask a young guy to do any more than he has done in Triple-A lately."
Cincinnati's first-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Stephenson has not found footing in the big leagues in parts of the last two seasons. He was a contender to make the rotation each of the last two Spring Trainings, but could not secure a spot. In 2017, he opened the season in the Reds' bullpen but struggled.
In 25 games for the Reds last season, including 11 starts, Stephenson was 5-6 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 84 2/3 innings. However, there was encouragement down the stretch. Over his final eight starts from Aug. 19, Stephenson was 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA.
The momentum wasn't carried into camp this spring, and Stephenson was sent back to Louisville to figure things out.
"I think the biggest change I've made so far is in early May I started pitching exclusively out of the stretch," Stephenson said. "It's been huge for me to work on one thing only and simplify everything."
Recalling when he was the bench coach, Riggleman often heard former manager Bryan Price and former pitching coach Mack Jenkins discuss how Stephenson relied too much in the past on his split-fingered fastball. He threw it early in counts instead of picking his spots.
"I think that instead of just going to that immediately, I think he's understood that can be a put-away pitch for strike three, but I don't need to be using that in the first or second pitch in the count," Riggleman said. "I think he's learned how to use his stuff better because he's gotten a lot of strikeouts down there."
Besides crediting Louisville pitching coach Jeff Fassero with his turnaround, Stephenson felt he had the confidence that he lacked in the past.
"It was big with confidence for me, just being able to trust my stuff," he said. "I think this year I've really been able to trust myself and pitch the way I know how to pitch and try to translate everything up to here."
Votto, Tucker hurting
True to his announcement on Monday night, Riggleman did not start first baseman Joey Votto vs. the Mets on Tuesday because of continued soreness in his right knee. Votto was hit by a pitch vs. the Nationals on Saturday and has been limping. His status for Wednesday's game is unknown and Thursday's team off-day will also allow for rest.
"We'll just kind of see how he goes," Riggleman said. "He'll get treatment throughout the day today and we'll see how he feels overnight and tomorrow morning."
• Outfielder Preston Tucker, who was hit on the left foot by a pitch on Monday, was unavailable on Tuesday. Tucker, who underwent X-rays that were negative, was wearing a walking boot in between treatment sessions.
"I've been hit a dozen times in my career with backfoot sliders," Tucker said. "It felt like they just missed me. It could have been a lot worse. That one caught right where there's no padding on the shoe and on the bone. I was fortunate enough that it's not broken. Hopefully, I can recover quickly enough where I can avoid the DL."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.