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Treasure find: Stephenson on path to success

Young righty utilizing all his pitches, staying calm under pressure
MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- The recent competitive maneuvering for the inside track for one of the Reds' rotation spots in 2018 has made the final weeks of the 2017 season more interesting.

Like Sal Romano, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson has certainly shown the ability to keep up. Stephenson was wild with five walks in his six-plus innings on Tuesday, but found ways out of messes during the Reds' 9-3 win over the Brewers.

Full Game Coverage

CINCINNATI -- The recent competitive maneuvering for the inside track for one of the Reds' rotation spots in 2018 has made the final weeks of the 2017 season more interesting.

Like Sal Romano, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson has certainly shown the ability to keep up. Stephenson was wild with five walks in his six-plus innings on Tuesday, but found ways out of messes during the Reds' 9-3 win over the Brewers.

Full Game Coverage

"Probably the biggest difference between the beginning of the year and now is that he can walk that tightrope and make pitches," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Stephenson gave up one earned run and four hits over six innings with seven strikeouts despite the five walks. Two of the free passes were to Brewers pitcher Zach Davies. But Milwaukee batters were stifled by Stephenson's variety of pitches.

"His changeup has gotten a lot better since the last time we saw him," Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw said. "I had one at-bat coming in off him, but I saw some tape and his changeup was really good tonight. I don't know if he changed something with that or not, but he was commanding that changeup really well."

Three double plays also helped minimize the damage.

"It's tough to work out of a lot of jams," said Stephenson, who is 4-4 with a 5.15 ERA in 21 games, including seven starts. "Moving forward, I definitely want to be able to limit that. The walks didn't end up hurting me today."

The moment that may have mattered most in Stephenson's outing came in the fourth inning. Two walks and a single presented a bases loaded, no outs dilemma. Then Stephenson struck out the next three batters in order, finishing both Stephen Vogt and Jonathan Villar with split-fingered fastballs in the mid-80's mph.

Video: MIL@CINL Stephenson fans Villar to leave bases loaded

"I think the biggest thing is seeing the growth in those high-leverage situations, with multiple baserunners and maybe no outs or one out, and how he's able to work his way through it," Price said. "He's pitching. He's not trying to manhandle with the fastball. He's still utilizing all three of his pitches. He doesn't kick into overthrowing mode. Young pitchers tend to do that."

Stephenson took a shutout into the seventh, but gave up back-to-back doubles for his lone run. Over his last six games -- including five starts -- he is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

Over the last 12 games, Reds starting pitchers have a 2.81 ERA, while the team has posted a 7-5 record. All but two of those starts were made by the rookies. The long-struggling Cincinnati rotation has a 5.28 ERA on the year, which is last in the Majors.

"I think it's been really fun to watch lately," Stephenson said. "Everybody has been going out there and giving the team an opportunity to win. Moving forward for next year, if we keep it rolling like this it's going to be a lot of fun.

"It's positive energy for everybody. We all want to almost best each other and we all want everyone to do well."

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.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cincinnati Reds, Robert Stephenson