'Bright futures ahead' for Reds' rookie duo

September 26th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- For the Reds to have even contended for the postseason into September, a big part of the credit belongs to a pair of rookies in Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India.

India is a leading contender for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, but Stephenson had the bigger day in Sunday’s 9-2 Reds victory over the Nationals with three hits and three RBIs, including a two-run home run in the fifth inning that put his team ahead.

“We believe in ourselves and we believe in the people around us,” Stephenson said. “This game is really hard. For us to come in and do what we do, it’s been fun. We’ve put in a lot of work, both of us. It’s been fun to be with one another during this ride. We spent a lot of time last year with one another. We’ve grown a lot together. It’s been fun. Hopefully we have many more years ahead of us.”

The win was notable for some other reasons:

• Cincinnati took the final three games of the four-game series from Washington at Great American Ball Park to snap a nine-series winless streak.

• The Reds improved to 81-75, assuring them of a second year in a row without a losing record. There are six games remaining to try for a winning season.

• Winning kept the club’s very faint postseason hopes alive for another day as the Reds remained six games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot. Like the Phillies, which have the same record, their elimination number shrunk to one after St. Louis won its 16th consecutive game with a victory over the Cubs.

Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle was stellar with one unearned run and three hits allowed over six innings. Mahle walked two and struck out six. Now 13-6 with a 3.54 ERA, Mahle crossed the 200-strikeout plateau to reach 204 for the season with one start remaining.

Washington had a runner on second base in the top of the fifth inning when India mishandled a Lane Thomas two-out grounder for an error that scored Carter Kieboom.

India quickly atoned for the mistake by opening the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff double against Nationals starter Josh Rogers.

“That’s what makes Jonathan who he is, the player he is,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s going to make him just keep getting better as a player. It’s a very, very competitive nature, because I know that it’s a bad feeling for anyone to make an error. Of course, Jonathan wants to make every play. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing him make every play. And there’s really only one way to respond to that: Be ready for the next play, and also do your part offensively. Not a surprise at all, but impressive at the same time.”

Next was Stephenson, who drove a 1-0 Rogers pitch to the opposite field for a two-run homer -- his 10th of the season. The next batter, Nick Castellanos, made it back-to-back homers by driving a 2-2 pitch to left-center field. Castellanos, who has a career-high 32 homers this season, has gone deep in three consecutive games.

Stephenson added a double and scored on Kyle Farmer’s grand slam in the sixth inning against reliever Ryne Harper. Stephenson batted two more times and had a chance to hit for the cycle, but he fell a triple shy. He did add a sacrifice fly to center field in the eighth inning in his final plate appearance.

“It wasn’t until [TJ] Friedl told me something. I didn’t even think about it until I was like, ‘Man, I am a triple away from the cycle,’” Stephenson said. “Somebody is going to have to break a leg or something like that in the outfield for me to get a triple.” 

In 126 games, often in a catching tandem with veteran Tucker Barnhart, Stephenson is batting .283/.367/.431 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. He leads all NL rookies in batting average and has yet to make an error behind the plate this season. 

“He’s been awesome. I love throwing to him,” Mahle said. “I love throwing to Tuck as well. It’s cool having that Tyler-Tyler connection and he flat out rakes. He’s been awesome. And to be able to do it without playing every day is even more impressive.”

India is batting .268/.377/.455 with 20 homers and 67 RBIs and has blossomed after moving into the leadoff spot regularly on June 5.

“They were prepared when they got here -- both by what they did and our player development system when they got here, they were ready to go,” Bell said. “But more than anything, just what makes all Major League players successful, is what they have inside. Both great people, great young men; just really, really bright futures ahead [for] both of those guys, so it’s been really nice to see them both have success early on.”