PITTSBURGH -- Reds rookie Robert Stephenson was allowed to bat for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning while holding a two-run lead against the Pirates on Wednesday night, and he struck out. Thus, it initially seemed odd that Stephenson was pulled with two outs in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on second base.
Why? There were a couple of reasons. Stephenson started the inning with an ill-fated dive as he missed Starling Marte's bunt popup and landed on his throwing shoulder. But manager Bryan Price also didn't like the matchup against Josh Bell. The decision would backfire, though, as Michael Lorenzen gave up the lead before the Reds bounced back for a 5-2 win, their third in a row.
"I kind of landed on my forearm, elbow. Once all my weight got put onto it, then I kind of pushed my shoulder up a little bit," Stephenson said. "But it wasn't bad at all. I just wanted to be sure that I was going to be able to go out there and be able to make quality pitches still."
Stephenson pitched 5 2/3 innings with one earned run, two hits, two walks and four strikeouts. In his first two starts of the season, he had allowed eight runs and 12 hits over 9 2/3 innings.
After the Marte play went awry, Stephenson was looked over by Price and trainer Steve Baumann.
"He just wanted to be able to throw a couple pitches to make sure it wasn't going to be sore when he threw," Price said. "He didn't want to come out, which was great. It would have been one of those situations where he can kind of come out of the ballgame and no harm, no foul. He really wanted to stay in."
But when Bell came up with switch-hitting power, and with Marte on second base, Price decided to lift Stephenson for Lorenzen. Bell wound up scorching a lined RBI single up the middle to make it a 2-1 game.
"I didn't really like the Josh Bell situation," Price said. "I did like Rob going back out there for the sixth. I think it meant something. He was throwing the ball well. I wanted him to go back out there with a chance to kind of run the table right there. In that situation, a runner in scoring position and Bell as the tying run at the plate, I just felt like I had a better matchup in the bullpen at that time."
Lorenzen also gave up David Freese's RBI single that tied the game up.
Pittsburgh started out driving the ball hard in the first inning but came up empty. Andrew McCutchen's two-out single was the only hit Stephenson gave up until the sixth.
"Effectively dancing around the zone," Bell said of Stephenson's stuff. "It's tough to look up in the sixth and we don't have any runs on the board. ... The odds were in his favor tonight, and we didn't pull through when we could."
In previous starts, Stephenson was missing high with his fastball because he was pulling it to the arm side. On Wednesday, he was able to make corrections and slow himself down.
"I was very happy with it," Stephenson said. "I think there are obviously still places I can improve, but I definitely want to build on this one."
As for how his right shoulder felt after the game?
"Perfectly fine," Stephenson said.
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.