Relief shift a challenge for Stephenson

Relief shift a challenge for Stephenson

CINCINNATI -- Former Reds manager Dusty Baker often said relievers don't wear out -- they rust out from lack of use. New to bullpen work, Reds starting pitching prospect Robert Stephenson pitched Tuesday following six days off and wasn't very effective.

Stephenson allowed four earned runs and four hits with two walks and two strikeouts, while throwing 53 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. All of his runs and hits surrendered in the seventh inning came with two outs.

"It's definitely been a little bit of a challenge," Stephenson said of learning to be a reliever on Wednesday. "I feel like I've got a pretty good routine in place. It's just a matter of the consistency. Some days my arm has felt pretty fresh and other days it hasn't. Yesterday, my arm felt good, but obviously I didn't have great fastball command and I kind of had to rely on my offspeed stuff."

Stephenson, Cincinnati's No. 4 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, has a 9.69 ERA and 2.38 WHIP through seven appearances and 13 innings. Another starter prospect in the bullpen, lefty Cody Reed, has also pitched sparingly in the long relief role.

Reds manager Bryan Price felt some starting pitchers adjust well to conditioning their arms for relief work and others take longer.

"The thing I don't want to do is start setting up reasons why guys struggle," Price said. "We already understand these guys are young and inexperienced. OK, that is a factor. However, it doesn't mean you have to struggle. That's been my point. It's not to discredit anyone here but I don't want to start setting up reasons why guys struggle. The right thing to do is say we've brought this group here and the young guys that are here we brought here because we believe they can pitch here and compete here. And we're still confident in that. They also have to do it. 'They haven't pitched in six days' would not be an excuse for anybody on the staff."

Price believed there were benefits to having Stephenson and Reed with the club, because they get more experience vs. big league hitters and can work on their stuff with big league coaches. But he acknowledged they are not pitching enough.

"This is not the template they would have for six months of the season," Price said. "If their usage continued to be every fifth or sixth day, they would certainly need to go down and get some repetitions in the Minor Leagues."

Worth noting

• The reports were positive on pitcher Homer Bailey's 23-pitch bullpen session in Arizona on Tuesday. Bailey, who is rehabbing from having elbow surgery in February that removed bone chips, is expected to work off a mound every three days until he is ready to face hitters in a simulated game. A mid-to-late June target to have him in the big leagues remains.

"I think that's realistic," Price said. "It's a loosely written calendar. Everything would have to move forward without a hitch for him to be ready in the period in mid-to-late June."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.