CINCINNATI -- When Jackson Stephens starts for the Reds on Saturday against the Cubs, he will be the eighth pitcher and fifth starter to make his Major League debut with Cincinnati this season. And while expectations will obviously be tempered with a player making his first big league start, the
CINCINNATI -- When Jackson Stephens starts for the Reds on Saturday against the Cubs, he will be the eighth pitcher and fifth starter to make his Major League debut with Cincinnati this season. And while expectations will obviously be tempered with a player making his first big league start, the Reds hope he can help their struggling rotation.
Stephens -- an 18th-round pick by Cincinnati in the 2012 Draft -- spent time with the Reds in May, but he never saw the field. He has been with Triple-A Louisville for most of the season, where he is 4-4 with a 4.97 ERA in 15 games (14 starts).
"He got off to a very slow start in Triple-A and he's pitched much better as of late," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I think that's a good message for all of our guys in the system, is that we don't pick up a stat sheet and look at the stats and say, 'This is who you are.' ... I feel like this is a great opportunity to get him up here and get an opportunity to get his feet wet."
Cincinnati has had variable success with rookie starters in 2017. Three of the first four pitchers who made their first Major League starts are back in Louisville -- including Amir Garrett, who after a hot start to the season posted a 3-6 record and a 7.41 ERA in 12 starts.
But not every rookie pitcher has performed poorly for the Reds. Luis Castillo, who was called up from Double-A Pensacola earlier this month, has a 3.38 ERA in two starts in the big leagues. In his last start, he threw 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball in the Reds' 4-3 win over the Brewers on Wednesday.
Younger pitchers like Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson are also performing well of late for Louisville, something Price is happy to see.
"They're doing exactly what they need to be doing, staying in games, pitching the innings, throwing the ball over the plate," Price said. "I got really good reviews on Robert's slider, which is a pitch he's added this year to go with the rest of his repertoire. He was very sharp, as was Romano. He threw an eight-inning complete game in under 90 pitches and got somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 ground-ball outs. That works."
Another arm to watch out for is Tyler Mahle, the Reds' No. 8 prospect who has thrown a perfect game this season for Pensacola and has a 1.48 ERA in 15 starts in 2017. Cincinnati's plan for him this season is still uncertain, but he has definitely turned some heads with his performance.
"I don't feel like I can represent the organization's thought process on if he'll be ready in the second half," Price said. "If he'll get an opportunity or not. I know he's pitched very, very well. But where he is in his development and where our player development staff feel he is, if they feel he's ready to handle this responsibility or maybe in the second half, I don't know. I know he's been very impressive."
Jeremy Vernon is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.