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Stephenson still working to crack delivery code

Rookie back to drawing board after career-high seven walks in Thursday's loss
MLB.com @m_sheldon

MIAMI -- The Reds' coaching staff has worked hard to help Robert Stephenson get on top of his delivery and create more of a downward plane with his fastball. But on Thursday against the Marlins, a majority of the rookie starter's fastballs seemed up -- way up.

Strikes were a premium for Stephenson while walks were plentiful. The 24-year-old right-hander walked a career-high seven batters over 4 1/3 innings as the Reds were handed a 4-1 loss by the Marlins.

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MIAMI -- The Reds' coaching staff has worked hard to help Robert Stephenson get on top of his delivery and create more of a downward plane with his fastball. But on Thursday against the Marlins, a majority of the rookie starter's fastballs seemed up -- way up.

Strikes were a premium for Stephenson while walks were plentiful. The 24-year-old right-hander walked a career-high seven batters over 4 1/3 innings as the Reds were handed a 4-1 loss by the Marlins.

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"Command was a challenge today for sure," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Of the 92 pitches Stephenson threw, 48 were fastballs. Of those pitches, 26 were called for balls. According to Statcast™, none of his fastballs garnered any swings and misses.

Command issues have been an issue for Stephenson at Triple-A and during his brief big league exposure. But in his first start upon his recall from Louisville on Saturday against the Marlins in Cincinnati, he issued one unintentional walk over 5 1/3 innings.

Many of Thursday's issues were mechanical.

"In the bullpen even warming up today, I'm hitting my spots fine," Stephenson said. "It's just when I got into the game today, I felt like I got too aggressive and I was collapsing my backside, opening up early and missing a lot up and armside. I was never able to get it down and in."

Stephenson walked two batters in the first, second and fifth innings. The only inning he didn't walk a batter was the fourth, but Derek Dietrich led off that frame with a home run.

"This isn't happening because he doesn't believe he can get hitters out," Price said. "We just haven't been able to crack the code on the delivery that's going to provide the consistent quality strike. When I talk about quality, you don't have to hit a gnat's backside to have command. But be down in the zone and be able to cover the bottom part of the strike zone when you need to be down there. That's been a tough challenge for Robert here for a bit."

Stephenson, who allowed three earned runs and four hits with two strikeouts, was able to limit the damage considering how often he was in trouble. The only time the walks came back to haunt him was the fifth inning when the first two batters walked and eventually scored. He left with the bases loaded and one out.

While his fastball was lacking, Stephenson was able to execute with the slider he has worked hard to improve in the Minors.

"I think we threw two curveballs all night, if I'm not mistaken. The rest were sliders and he did a great job," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "We tried to throw some more breaking balls, more than we would have liked to just to try to get him be more out front, be better mechanically. We grinded tonight."

Stephenson was disappointed that he wasn't able to build on his last outing and have more success.

"Especially because in my bullpen, I felt like I did really well working on exactly what I wanted to work on," he said. "Then when I got into the game today, I just completely abandoned it. Not that I meant to, but that's what happened out there. It was pretty much the opposite of what I've been working on."

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, Robert Stephenson