CINCINNATI — Robert Stephenson knew the question was coming, knew he would be quizzed about the harsh, penetrating words aimed his way a month ago by Delino DeShields, his manager at Class AAA Louisville.
And he was as prepared as a college student entering a debate contest.
Stephenson, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2011, not only was called up Friday from Louisville, but he was immediately inserted into the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation and will start Monday afternoon against the New York Mets.
IT WAS NOT AN EYE-OPENING season at Louisville for the 23-year-old right hander drafted out of Alhambra, Calif., High School, where he pitched back-to-back no-hitters his senior year. There were no no-hitters at Louisville. He was 8-and-9 with a 4.41 earned run average over 24 starts, not numbers that demanded immediate promotion to the big club.
In fact, after one bad outing, DeShields unloaded.
“This is what we’ve been going through with this kid for the last three or four years,” said DeShields, referring to Stephenson’s control issues. “Until he makes an adjustment, it’s going to continue. It’s not going to get better. It’s on him. He’s been told what he needs to do and what he needs to work on by numerous coaches and staff members. It’s up to him to make those adjustments. If I was him, I’d be embarrassed.”
WHEN ASKED ABOUT IT FRIDAY, Stephenson calmly said, “Honestly, it didn’t affect me. I understand where he was coming from. I was frustrated, too. He apologized to me. And the thing is, it would be stupid for me not to listen to anybody, to any of my coaches this year.
“I need to listen to as much information as I can to get better,” he said. “I’ve been taking bits and pieces from every single pitching coach I’ve had this year.”
The source of DeShields’ dismay and that of the Reds was that Stephenson walked 71 batters in 136 2/3 innings. He was called up twice this season to make emergency starts and sent right back to Louisville, even though he was 2-and-0 with a 3.00 earned run avereage and only four walks in 12 innings.
“That gives me a little confidence boost and eases the nerves so when I go out there I can be relaxed and more confident,” he added. “Of all the three times I’ve been called up this year, this is the most exciting because I know I’ll be here for an extended period of time.”
OF STEPHENSON, MANAGER BRYAN Price said, “He doesn’t have to go out there and throw a shutout to stay in the rotation. We want to see Robert and this is his chance and we’re giving him a chance to pitch in his regular comfortable role, which is as a starter. This is an opporutnity for him to continue to find his way.
“This gives him a chance to prepare for a lineup,” said Price. “In Triple-A there are limitations as to how you can prepare for an opposing team. Here we have all the intel, the experienced catchers, all the coaching he’ll need to prepare that you don’t typically get in Triple-A.
“He has taken advantage of his first two times out here nad pitched well and a continuation of that would bode well for next year,” said Price. “We consider him one of our better pitching prospects and we would have liked him to have the breakout year and forced our hand to bring him up earlier.
“But everyone learns at their own pace and so he didn’t crash onto the scene because he was 10-and-2 with a 2.50 ERA. He crashed onto the scene because we’ve liked what we’ve seen over the course of his development. He didn’t develop as fast as we’d like, but here is a nice month of pitching for him to hopefully put the finishing touches on his readiness moving to next year. And he has some work to do and this is the right stage for him to do it.”
THE REDS ALSO RECALLED starting pitcher Cody Reed, who was 0-and-7 with 7.36 ERA in 10 mid-season starts for the Reds before he was returned to Louisville. He was 6-and-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 13 starts in Triple-A.
Reed and Keyviousl Sampson, also recalled Friday, will work out of the bullpen.
“There are some things with mechanics that we’re working on with Cody, that Jeff Fassero (Louisville pitching coach) was working on,” said Price. “We want to continue working with him on those and have him re-introudced to the compeititon here in smaller doses.”
This is not a bullpen demotion or remake of Reed. The plans are for him to continue as a starting pitcher — next year.
“Our eyes are on him returning to the rotation next year and there is no thought in my eyes at all that he is a relief pitcher,” said Price. “He is a big-league starters.”
Reed, though, has had back issues and Price said they probably stem from the changes in his mechanics.
“We’ve made some changes in his delivery so he can get better extension and finish,” said Price. “He has to break at waist instead of being so upright as he has been. That’s another reason to slowly integrate him back into the game because the back has been an issue.”
THERE WAS ONE SURPRISE ADDITION with Stephenson, Reed and Sampson. The Reds selected the contract of non-roster pitcher Wandy Peralta and removed outfielder Kyle Waldrop from the 40-man roster.
“He has a really good arm and at some point last year he transitioned from starter to bullpen,” Price said of the 25-year-old left hander from San Francisco. “Some people in our system felt that would be a role that would allow him to take that jump into prospect status.
“So his velocity came up, which was great, but he perfected a change-up and giving him smaller chunks of responsibllity has played out well,” said Price. “He has made some spot starts for Louisville, but since he transitioned to the bullpen his numbers have really improved greatly — hits per innings, strikeouts, ERA and overall strikes and decreasomg walks. That has us pretty excited about what we think he can do.”
Peralta began the season at Class AA Pensacola and was 0-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 bullpen appearances. Over 17 2/3 innings he walked three and struck out 20. He was promoted early to Louisville and was 4-an-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 37 appearances (two starts), walking 23 and striking out 38 in 37 2/3 innings.
The addition of Reed and Peralta to the bulpen gives Price two more left handers to go with Tony Cingrani, his only lefrt handed relief pitcher until now.