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Control issues plague Stephenson in '18 debut

MLB.com @m_sheldon

NEW YORK -- Back from Triple-A Louisville to pitch for the Reds on Wednesday afternoon after showing all he could show the organization in the Minors, Robert Stephenson was given a tough task to oppose Mets ace Jacob deGrom. But facing deGrom the hitter in the fourth inning with the bases loaded should have been much easier by comparison.

Stephenson walked deGrom on four straight pitches -- not a fastball among them -- to force home the game's second run. The Mets went on to hand the Reds an 8-0 defeat in the rubber game at Citi Field.

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NEW YORK -- Back from Triple-A Louisville to pitch for the Reds on Wednesday afternoon after showing all he could show the organization in the Minors, Robert Stephenson was given a tough task to oppose Mets ace Jacob deGrom. But facing deGrom the hitter in the fourth inning with the bases loaded should have been much easier by comparison.

Stephenson walked deGrom on four straight pitches -- not a fastball among them -- to force home the game's second run. The Mets went on to hand the Reds an 8-0 defeat in the rubber game at Citi Field.

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"Every single inning, I was out there working harder than I needed to. It was definitely a tough start for me," Stephenson said.

Video: CIN@NYM: Stephenson, Riggleman on 2018 debut

In four innings of work, totaling 76 pitches, Stephenson gave up three earned runs and three hits with five walks (two intentional), four strikeouts and a wild pitch. The right-hander, who had a 2.87 ERA in 20 starts for Louisville this season and a 1.23 ERA over his past seven Triple-A starts, did not set himself up for success. The leadoff batter reached safely in each of his final three innings, twice on walks.

Stephenson also threw a first-pitch strike to only 10 of his 20 batters.

"The bottom line is I just didn't throw enough strikes today," he said. "Moving forward, I just have to better about that."

The pivotal fourth inning had the Mets already ahead, 1-0, when Stephenson walked leadoff batter Jose Bautista. Brandon Nimmo followed with a double to left field that put runners on second and third base. After the first out, the Reds opted to intentionally walk Devin Mesoraco to face deGrom, who is considered a decent hitter for a pitcher but nonetheless entered the day with a .128 average.

Video: CIN@NYM: deGrom walks, forces in a run

Stephenson opened the plate appearance with a slider that was outside. The second pitch was a curveball up and in for ball two. For ball three, another curveball was high. A slider that went outside was ball four and forced in the run to make it 2-0.

"For me, my slider is my easiest pitch to throw for strikes," Stephenson said. "I wanted to throw whatever I could for a strike. That at-bat, I wasn't able to throw any for a strike."

deGrom sounded disappointed that he didn't get a chance to put the ball in play.

"I guess he had a better feel for that slider, I don't know," deGrom said. "I was trying to hit the ball. I couldn't do it."

After deGrom reached, Amed Rosario added a sacrifice to increase New York's lead to three runs.

According to Statcast™, Stephenson threw more sliders (30) than fastballs (19) during the start.

Video: CIN@NYM: Riggleman on Stephenson's start, tough loss

"I thought he did some really good things, but a little too dependent on his other stuff, his secondary stuff -- his slider and split-fingered pitch, a lot of those," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "We've got some work to do between this start and his next one where he can get more confident in locating his fastball."

Walks were a frequent issue during Stephenson's previous big league stints in 2016 and '17. Although he had more success and increased confidence in Triple-A, he still was prone to walking batters, with 57 over 113 innings for a 4.5 BB/9 ratio. Even during his strong Triple-A stretch, he issued 17 walks over 44 innings. He told reporters on Tuesday that walks are part of his game, likely believing he can work out of any situation.

Although Stephenson wasn't as haunted by walks in the Minors, it's usually not a path to succeeding in the big leagues.

"The only person I've ever been around that I saw successfully do that is Hideo Nomo," Riggleman said. "He'd walk two guys to get to the one he'd want to get out. He could throw 150 pitches."

Walks haunted every Reds pitcher, and their 11 tied the team's season high. After dropping two of three in the series to the Mets, the Reds completed a disappointing 2-7 road trip through Detroit, Washington and New York. The rotation was the difference in both wins and all seven losses while posting a 5.84 ERA.

Video: CIN@NYM: Hamilton takes second, notches 27th steal

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
One missed chance: deGrom, who entered with a 1.85 ERA despite being winless in his past seven starts, pitched six strong innings with four hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts. In the first inning, Phillip Ervin and Scooter Gennett hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out. But Gennett was caught stealing and Eugenio Suarez struck out to extinguish the chance. No other Reds player reached third base the rest of the day.

"We never really threatened too much," Riggleman said. "That's a pretty good chance right there. We'll take that. Then it's two out. The odds were working against us at that point."

Video: CIN@NYM: Mesoraco throws out Gennett, saves a run

POSITION-PLAYER-PITCHES ALERT
After the Mets scored three runs in the eighth inning against Keury Mella to make it an eight-run game, Riggleman summoned Ervin from left field to take the mound with two outs. Ervin, who hasn't pitched professionally previously, threw three curveballs to Mesoraco and retired him on a groundout to third base. Ervin is the third Reds position player to pitch this season -- after Cliff Pennington and Alex Blandino. Not counting two-way Angels star Shohei Ohtani, Ervin is the 41st position player to pitch in the Major Leagues this season.

Video: CIN@NYM: Ervin comes in relief, induces groundout

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With one out and a runner on second base in the third inning, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton potentially saved a run. On Wilmer Flores' drive to right-center field, Hamilton made a long run to his left and made a sliding catch before the warning track and popped up with a quick throw as Rosario tagged up and went to third base. According to Statcast™, it was a 4-star catch. The catch probability was 34 percent, as Hamilton had to go 97 feet in 5.0 seconds with a sprint speed of 29.7 feet per second.

Video: CIN@NYM: Hamilton makes a sliding grab to rob Flores

UP NEXT
Following an off-day on Thursday, the Reds will open a homestand at 7:10 p.m. ET Friday vs. the D-backs at Great American Ball Park, and they hope to have Joey Votto back in the lineup after he missed two starts with a right knee contusion. Anthony DeSclafani will pitch against Arizona's Clay Buchholz. After being unable to complete at least five innings for three straight starts, DeSclafani turned in a seven-inning gem vs. the Nationals on Saturday for a 7-1 win. He allowed one earned run and six hits.

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.

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