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Stephens makes memory, impression on Reds

Future uncertain after MLB debut, but righty relishes achieving 'childhood dream'
MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- The advice Jackson Stephens' teammates gave him ahead of his Major League debut Saturday was simple: "Remember this moment. Don't forget it. Remember it."

It shouldn't be too hard for the Reds' right-hander to do so going forward after he struck out eight in five innings of three-run ball and picked up his first career hit, RBIs and win in Cincinnati's 5-3 victory over Chicago.

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CINCINNATI -- The advice Jackson Stephens' teammates gave him ahead of his Major League debut Saturday was simple: "Remember this moment. Don't forget it. Remember it."

It shouldn't be too hard for the Reds' right-hander to do so going forward after he struck out eight in five innings of three-run ball and picked up his first career hit, RBIs and win in Cincinnati's 5-3 victory over Chicago.

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"It was unbelievable," Stephens, the Reds' 18th-round pick in the 2012 Draft, said of his big league debut. "Childhood dream. Just going out there and trying to compete. That was fun. That was fun."

The scouting report on Stephens pegged his fastball in the low 90s, but -- perhaps high on the adrenaline of his first big league appearance -- he came out of the gate throwing around 94-95 mph, and once touched 97, much to the surprise of everyone in the stadium, including Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens fans eight, drives in two runs

"[Cincinnati pitching coach] Mack [Jenkins] and I were looking at each other after the first inning like, 'Where the heck did that come from?'" Barnhart said.

The hot start only lasted so long. Stephens allowed two home runs in the third inning -- a solo homer to Jon Jay and a two-run shot by Wilson Contreras that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. But the rookie was able to settle down and limit the damage.

He pretty much cruised from there.

"It's what I saw in the aftermath of that three-run third inning that really made the difference," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Really, it said a lot."

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens' parents discuss their son's debut

After striking out a pair in a perfect top of the fourth, Stephens came up to bat in the bottom of the inning with two outs and the bases loaded. Instead of pinch-hitting for the pitcher, Price left him in and it paid off. On the first pitch Stephens saw from Eddie Butler, he singled through the middle, driving in two runs, giving his team a 4-3 lead and driving his mother to tears in the stands.

"Bryan was like, 'Hey, if that first pitch is there, swing at it,'" Stephens said. "I was like, 'All right.'"

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens single plates two for first MLB hit

Stephens is the third Reds starter in the last four days to give up three runs or fewer over five or more innings, something the team is probably ecstatic about given its rotation struggles this season. That said, Stephens' immediate future is uncertain.

Price mentioned before Friday's series opener that he would like some extra bullpen depth for the Reds' upcoming road trip -- where they'll play National League West powerhouses Colorado and Arizona. Brought up to take Brandon Finnegan's rotation spot, Stephens could be sent down to make room for another reliever soon, meaning Cincinnati would have a bullpen day or call up another pitcher to start again in five days. But he made sure to make a mark -- and a memory -- in his big league debut.

"I feel like I belong, but that's not my decision," he said. "My thing is, I go out there and compete and give my team a chance to win. That's all you can do. You can't control any of that other stuff. You can just go out there and compete, give it your all and just embrace the opportunity and try to take advantage of it and grasp it. That's all I tried to do today."

Jeremy Vernon is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds, Jackson Stephens