CINCINNATI -- Robert Stephenson has always had the fastball to succeed. Now he has the confidence and the slider.
Stephenson went six innings and allowed two runs on five hits in the Reds' 7-2 victory over the Mets on Thursday at Great American Ball Park. He walked three and struck out seven. The 24-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his last five outings. In that span, he's gone 24 1/3 innings and allowed 17 hits with 13 walks and 28 strikeouts.
"I've got to say the slider," Stephenson said. "It's been working really well for me lately. I think when I get in a jam, I turn to that. When I get ahead in the count, I turn to that. That's been a really big factor in the success lately."
"The fact that he has secondary pitches that he can throw from behind in the count [is key]," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He leaned on offspeed stuff after the third inning."
The success has boosted Stephenson's confidence.
"I think a big part of baseball is confidence," Stephenson said. "I think that was what hurt me last year. I had a pretty rough stretch. I never got to feel like I was confident in my stuff. Lately, I've been able to be confident in my stuff."
It's beginning to look like Stephenson, the club's No. 1 pick in 2011, is finding himself. He started the season with the Reds, but was sent to Triple-A Louisville after posting an 8.03 ERA in 13 relief appearances.
He picked up the slider in Spring Training, but used it sparingly early on.
"I really worked on it a lot more in Triple-A," he said. "It was a good time to throw it more often, especially as a starter."
On Thursday, Stephenson allowed a run in the first and worked out of a no-out, two-on jam in the second. The game could have gone sideways on him in the third. He walked Jose Reyes to start the inning. An out later, Asdrubal Cabrera singled, sending Reyes to third.
Brandon Nimmo followed with a line drive that hit Stephenson flush on the right hip. The ball caromed all the way to first baseman Joey Votto and a run scored to make it a 2-2 game.
After being checked out and throwing a few warmup pitches, Stephenson stayed in the game and got a ground ball and strikeout to strand the runners.
"It was definitely tight,' Stephenson said. "I'll be sore tomorrow. But I didn't want to come out of that game at all. I think it was a little bit of a wakeup call. I got better after that."
The Mets did not threaten in the fourth, fifth or sixth.
"At no point in time did it become a concern," Price said. "Those can be fallback positions for guys to come out a game. . . He built a little street cred with the guys," Price said.