Why isn’t Stephenson in the rotation?

CINCINNATI — For the second time this embryonic season, Robert Stephenson was called upon to rush to Cincinnati to make an emergency start and both times he walked away with victories.

And both times he was immediately sent back to Class AAA Louisivlle — for more seasoning.

How much seasoning does the kid need? On Tuesday night he held the potent Colorado Rockies to one run and three hits over seven innings. And the top five in the batting order didn’t get on base, 0 for 15.

AND HE NEEDS MORE seasoning after all that salt he poured into Colorado’s wounds?

There is a slight odor involved here. With the team scrambling for starting pitchers, why wouldn’t they keep Stephenson? It most likely involves service time. The Reds don’t want Stephenson’s clock on arbitration, free agency and big money to start ticking too soon. It’s all about the money, saving a few bucks over the long haul.

Several Major League scouts watched Stephenson Tuesday and all wondered why he isn’t permanently in the rotation. One said he wrote in his report, “This kid is major league ready. As the game wore on and he got a little fatigued, his stuff actually got better.”

MANAGER BRYAN PRICE, whose hands are tied on this issue, continues to say all the right things to defend the team’s position on the 23-year-old right hander and No. 1 draft pick from Martinez, Calif.

“His two major league starts is a small sample size and we have a lot more history with Robert, more old past history than recent history,” said Price. “He has had two nice games and one in particularly nice game.

“That being said, he doesn’t have a large sample size of major league games,” said Price. “Coming into this year our goal was for him to increase his overall strike percentage and to increase his ability to command the strike zone with his breaking ball and change-up and to improve his fastball command.”

Of note: Stephenson walked one batter in seven innings Tuesday.

“I don’t want to be critical of his game yesterday because he pitched beautifully,” said Price. “He does have areas of his game to work on.”

PRICE SAYS WHAT the Reds are doing with Stephenson is not unprecedented.

“I was pitching in Triple-A at the time when the Los Angeles Dodgers called up Ramon Martinez for his first major league start,” said Price. “He threw a compete-game shutout and was returned to Triple-A. Same with Mike Remlinger with Pittsburgh. He came up, pitched a shutout against the Giants and was sent back to the minors.”

Price also emphasized that it wouldn’t be long before starters Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and John Lamb come off the disabled list.

“It will be more challenging then for a guy like Robert to stay in this rotation for long term at this point in the season,” said Price. “I’d rather have him pitching regularly in Triple-A.”

AFTER J.J. HOOVER GAVE up a two-run home run in the ninth inning Tuesday night, letting a three-run lead slip to a one-run lead, Price was asked how long Hoover’s rope is.

Price said he knew the question was coming and that he would sleep on it. He slept on it and on Wednesday morning his decision wasn’t yet forthcoming.

He did have an out for Wednesday, though. Because Hoover appeared in two straight games and three of the last four Price had no plans to use him.

“I give the situation a lot of thought all the time,” he said. “Not using him today will give me more time to contemplate what I want to do. I would really love for him to be the closer. That’s what I really want to see.

“BUT I DO NEED him to perform at a more consistent level,” Price added. “I haven’t given him a ton of opportunities because there haven’t been a lot of save situations to start the ninth inning.

“He needs better pitch quality in and out of the strike zone and you look at the numbers and you see a lot of hits, three homers and four walks,” said Price. “Pitch efficiency and command haven’t been great. But he does have a track record of being able to be really good, but he does need to get back on the beam.

“I’d really like J.J. to be the closer, but I’m not going to force-feed that situation,” he concluded.

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