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Stephenson thrown into fire in spring debut

Starter faces D-backs without live batting practice; Senzel gets time at shortstop
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One of the leading contenders for the fifth spot in the Reds rotation, Robert Stephenson didn't have the sharpest of first starts Monday vs. the D-backs. But Stephenson had good reason.

It was the first time he's faced hitters, at all, this spring. A neck injury prevented Stephenson from facing Reds hitters in simulated game action last week. So he jumped in with both feet vs. Arizona and gave up three runs and three hits over 1 1/3 innings during Cincinnati's 5-2 loss.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One of the leading contenders for the fifth spot in the Reds rotation, Robert Stephenson didn't have the sharpest of first starts Monday vs. the D-backs. But Stephenson had good reason.

It was the first time he's faced hitters, at all, this spring. A neck injury prevented Stephenson from facing Reds hitters in simulated game action last week. So he jumped in with both feet vs. Arizona and gave up three runs and three hits over 1 1/3 innings during Cincinnati's 5-2 loss.

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Spring Training information

"It was definitely different but I feel good. It's fine," said Stephenson, who walked one and struck out four. "Get into games and start facing real hitters as opposed to live BP, I guess it's good for me."

Stephenson is battling against Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen and others for the rotation vacancy. He fell behind schedule and had to catch up after the neck soreness developed.

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"In the end, I think he was physically ready to pitch," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We'll certainly look for him to be sharper with his stuff. He certainly has to work ahead."

Stephenson, who turned 25 on Saturday, was 5-6 with a 4.68 ERA in 25 games -- including 11 starts -- last season. He opened 2017 on the big league roster but in the bullpen.

Over his final eight starts beginning Aug. 19, Stephenson was 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, as he found command and his confidence. He was lacking some of that command Monday. His first batter of the game, David Peralta, walked but was caught stealing. In the top of the second with one out, he had an 0-2 count on Alex Avila but after a foul ball and ball one, he allowed a homer to right field. Two batters later in a full count, Jeremy Hazelbaker slugged a two-run homer to right field. Stephenson faced one more batter, striking out Ildemaro Vargas before exiting with two outs.

"Just left a fastball up and that's what he was supposed to do with it," Stephenson said of Avila. "It was the first time I've faced live hitters this spring. It was a mixed bag for me."

"He was erratic," Price said. "He was up a lot and behind. On a couple of fastballs where he was trying to make a pitch, one [was] in and one [was] away. Both ended up out over the plate and got hit. It just wasn't real crisp."

Senzel plays shortstop

Reds top prospect Nick Senzel entered Monday's game in the sixth inning and played shortstop for the first time after working out there most of spring. Senzel, who started at third base Sunday vs. Cleveland, was 1-for-2 with a lined RBI single in the bottom of the sixth.

In the field, Senzel had three chances, getting assists on a pair of groundouts and catching a lineout.

"He looked good. He looked comfortable at the position," Price said. "It was my first look at him at short outside of playing infield [in workouts]. He's been working hard. I know he feels like he's benefitting from the reps he's getting at short. It really transitions well into third also."

Finnegan update

Reds starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan is tentatively slated to make his spring debut out of the bullpen Thursday vs. the White Sox. Finnegan is returning from a teres major muscle injury in his left arm and right shoulder surgery.

But before that becomes set, Price might have Finnegan pitch in a "B" game instead.

"We're trying to line up a morning game as well for a controlled environment," Price said. "He is scheduled, for sure, to pitch on the first."

Up next

Anthony DeSclafani, who missed all of last season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, will make his spring debut vs. the Brewers at 3:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday in Phoenix. The game will be shown on MLB.TV, and Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton will be among the regulars on the trip.

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.

Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Finnegan, Nick Senzel, Robert Stephenson