Stephenson solid in debut, returns to Minors

Reds' No. 2 prospect allows three earned runs over five innings in first start

Stephenson solid in debut, returns to Minors

CINCINNATI -- On the shelf inside Reds pitching prospect Robert Stephenson's locker were a pair of keepsakes. One was the baseball from his first Major League pitch on Thursday vs. the Phillies, and the other was the ball from his first strikeout.

Stephenson will take the prizes and positive memories from the 10-6 victory he earned for Cincinnati with him to Triple-A Louisville, where he was optioned after the game.

"I think it was great to be able to come up here and have this experience," Stephenson said. "That way I can come out here and get that first start out of the way. Then the next time I come back, I'm ready to go for Round 2."

The 23-year-old Stephenson, who is ranked as the Reds organization's No. 2 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, gave himself a solid debut to build from. In his five innings and 87 pitches, the right-hander gave up four runs (three earned), six hits, two walks with one strikeout and two home runs.

Stephenson's first career K

Injuries to the rotation made it possible for Stephenson to get the opportunity to start on Wednesday. With Jon Moscot expected to return when the spot comes up again on April 17, Stephenson's outing was expected to be a one-and-done turn.

While trying to make the club out of camp, Stephenson struggled in his last two spring starts, battling with both his command and his composure. None of those issues were evident vs. Philadelphia.

"[Catcher] Devin [Mesoraco] and I were talking that he pitched like he belonged here," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "He didn't pitch like he was scared. He came right after guys. In the game plan we talked about before the game, he executed it really well."

Barnhart consulted Wednesday with Chris Berset, who caught Stephenson in the Minors last season. Berset told Barnhart that if the right-hander's fastball command was there, it would be a good day. As he hovered between 90-92 mph and topped at 94 mph, Stephenson didn't show many secondary pitches.

"We may have thrown five or seven breaking balls and 10 or 15 splits," Barnhart said. "Other than that, he threw a lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, a lot of early contact. We talked about their aggressiveness and how we can possibly use it against them. They came out swinging, we got early contact and it was beneficial."

Stephenson traded MLB firsts when gave he gave up Cedric Hunter's first career homer to begin the third inning, and he also allowed an unearned run in the fourth. Following a nearly 40-minute bottom of the fourth in which he recieved eight runs of support, he notched two quick outs before giving up a walk and then a two-run homer to Ryan Howard. Stephenson kept warm by throwing in the indoor cage.

Overall, he was pleased with his results the first time out.

"I think just being able to go out there and be relaxed is the biggest thing," Stephenson said. "When you go out there and you're tense, you're going to run into trouble. When I was more relaxed, it's when I did a lot better."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.