Stephenson's first start something to build on

July 23rd, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Even before took the mound in his return from Triple-A Louisville on Saturday, Reds manager Bryan Price declared that he wasn't making a one-start audition. Stephenson is in the big league rotation to stay, or at least long enough to show whether or not he belongs.

While his line wasn't pretty during a 5-4 Reds loss to the Marlins at Great American Ball Park, Stephenson offered enough for encouragement. He gave up five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings, with five hits, two walks (one intentional) and five strikeouts.

The big damage came off the bat of J.T. Realmuto, who slugged a pair of two-run homers.

"Realmuto was the guy that really gave him trouble with two homers and a double and four RBIs. He made some big pitches, really, to the rest of the lineup," Price said. "It was certainly better, more in the zone, more ahead. A nice mixture of fastball and off-speed [pitches], and certainly a better showing."

Stephenson, 24, often struggled with command as a starter in his callups last season, and he went 0-2 with an 8.03 ERA and a 1.99 WHIP in 13 relief appearances this season after making the team out of Spring Training.

Cincinnati optioned Stephenson to Louisville on May 30 with multiple directives -- cut down on walks, have better command of pitches in the strike zone and develop secondary pitches, namely his slider.

"I think it's been improving a lot this season, especially with the slider coming around," Stephenson said. "I was able to get a couple of strikeouts on that. I think moving forward, that's going to be a good pitch for me."

In the second inning with a runner on first base, Stephenson threw a 2-2 fastball on the inside corner to Realmuto. He thought it was strike three, but it was called a ball. On the next fastball, Realmuto slugged a two-run homer that put Miami ahead, 3-2.

"I thought I had some really close pitches, especially that first homer that I gave up, I thought there was a really close one there. You know, I didn't get it. The next pitch ...," Stephenson said, trailing off.

In the sixth, Realmuto hit a first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats to snap a tie.

"I think I definitely feel like there are points where I can improve from tonight," Stephenson said. "A lot of balls were left up in the zone. I want to work on working down in the zone, getting ahead on guys. There's a couple of times I got behind, and it really hurt me. Overall, I think there's definitely some points where moving forward it could be better."