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Stephens uses arm, bat to beat Cubs in debut

MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- Jackson Stephens picked up his first Major League strikeout, first hit and RBIs, and most important to the Reds, his first win on Saturday in a 5-3 victory over the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Stephens delivered a go-ahead two-run single in a four-run fourth and shrugged off home runs by Chicago's Jon Jay and Willson Contreras.

The Cincinnati right-hander struck out eight in his big league debut and scattered six hits over five innings. He notched his first strikeout quickly, fanning Jay, the Cubs' leadoff batter, on a 95-mph fastball. But Jay got payback in the third when he launched a 2-2 pitch to right for his first home run of the season.

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CINCINNATI -- Jackson Stephens picked up his first Major League strikeout, first hit and RBIs, and most important to the Reds, his first win on Saturday in a 5-3 victory over the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Stephens delivered a go-ahead two-run single in a four-run fourth and shrugged off home runs by Chicago's Jon Jay and Willson Contreras.

The Cincinnati right-hander struck out eight in his big league debut and scattered six hits over five innings. He notched his first strikeout quickly, fanning Jay, the Cubs' leadoff batter, on a 95-mph fastball. But Jay got payback in the third when he launched a 2-2 pitch to right for his first home run of the season.

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"He gave up that home run to Jay with one out after he got the pitcher out, and then all of a sudden I think he got out of sorts a little bit," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's what I saw in the aftermath of that three-run third inning that really made the difference. Really, it said a lot."

• Stephens makes a memory, impresses

Stephens is the 25th pitcher to appear in a game for the Reds this year, and their 13th starter.

"Of course there's some butterflies a little bit, but it wasn't crazy," Stephens said of his nerves. "It wasn't crazy. I'm trying to keep myself composed and being able to go out there and throw strikes, pound the zone and let my stuff work and let the defense work behind me. That's the main thing I was trying to think of, and just taking deep breaths."

Chicago's Eddie Butler was sharp over the first three innings, throwing 35 pitches total, but then faltered in Cincinnati's four-run fourth. Butler gave up an RBI double to Adam Duvall, and one out later, walked Tucker Barnhart with the bases loaded to force in a run. He then served up Stephens' single. The Cubs' starter threw 33 pitches in the fourth before exiting with two outs.

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens single plates two for first MLB hit

"It's all frustrating," Butler said. "A couple pitches close to the zone that if I'm commanding it better, I get [the call]. I located my best fastball of the day to the pitcher, and he hits a six-hopper up the middle."

With the loss, the defending World Series champion Cubs are 40-41 at the halfway point. A year ago, they were 51-30 after 81 games.

• Cubs take stock at halfway point

"We have to score more than three runs," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just our inability to move the baseball in an RBI situation -- I've said it a thousand times."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Strike 'em out, throw 'em out: The Cubs had runners at first and third with nobody out in the second inning. Stephens fooled Javier Baez on a 76-mph slider, and then got an inning-ending double play when he fanned Albert Almora Jr., also on an offspeed pitch. Barnhart threw out Addison Russell at second on the strikeout to end the inning.

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens fans Almora, Barnhart nabs Russell

"I was trying to keep a zero on there," Stephens said. "If I gave up one run, I was like, 'OK, get the next guy and we'll get out of this.' Tucker did a great job throwing them out after a strikeout. It was just bang-bang. I got excited. I was fired up. Just helping the team keep a zero on there, I just felt like it gave confidence for the rest of the team."

Opponent's power returns to Cincy: On Friday, the Reds did not give up a home run, the first time they'd done that since June 5. On Saturday, the Cubs connected twice in the third, when Jay homered, his first since May 24, 2016, and two batters later, Contreras smacked his fifth dinger in the last 13 games. According to Statcast™, Contreras' homer had an exit velocity of 110 mph and sailed 442 feet to the last row of the far right corner of the left-field bleachers.

Video: CHC@CIN: Contreras goes deep for a two-run shot

Contreras seems comfortable batting fourth, and he's now 8-for-22 there with two homers and seven RBIs.

"He's taken to it nicely," Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats, hitting the ball hard. He's just playing well. As a catcher, he's a force behind the plate."

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Stephens is the first Reds pitcher with two RBIs in his Major League debut since Paul Moskau drove in a pair on June 21, 1977, at Philadelphia.

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Jake Arrieta will close the Cubs' series against the Reds on Sunday at 12:10 p.m. CT. The right-hander went 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA in June, and is coming off a loss to the Nationals in which he gave up five earned runs over four innings. In his start before that against the Marlins, he went seven innings and allowed one run. Which Arrieta will show up? He'll likely have Ben Zobrist back in there behind him.

Reds: Tim Adleman will take the hill for the Reds as they go for the sweep Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. Adleman has been among Cincinnati's most effective starters this season, posting a 5-4 record with a 4.62 ERA. He's given up three runs or fewer in six of his last seven appearances.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Jeremy Vernon is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.