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Jackson Stephens: ‘Step right up’

CINCINNATI — As far as the Cincinnati Reds pitching rotation goes, it is like the old carnival barker with the straw hat and cane, standing in front of a tent and yelling, “Step right up.”

The latest to step right up is Jackson Stephens and his test run is Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs, quite an assignment for a rookie making his major league debut.

Stephens will become: the 25th different pitcher to take the mound for the Reds this year, the 13th different starting pitcher, the seventh rookie starter this season.

ANLD A QUICK GLANCE at his numbers doesn’t evoke quivers of optimism. The 22-year-old 6-foot-2, 220-pound right hander from Anniston, Ala., is 4-and-4 with a 4.97 earned run average at class AAA Louisville. Over his last 10 starts he has given up 55 hits in 50 innings and walked 21.

As one observer remarked, “With those numbers, he fits right into this rotation.”

SO WHY IS HE THE next man up?

“He got off to a very slow start in Triple-A, but he has pitched much better as of late,” said manager Bryan Price. “That’s a good message for all of our guys in the system. We aren’t just going to pick up a stat sheet and say, ‘This is who you are.’

“We check certain sections of the season and he has been competing a lot better in the zone with his stuff,” Price continued. “We like his mix of pitches. He has four pitches and throws them all for strikes. This is a good opportunity to get up here to get his feet wet.”

It is most likely a one-look start for now for Stephens, an 18th-round draft pick in 2012.

Stephens spent two years with the Class A Dayton Dragons and was 3-and-7 with a 4.59 ERA in 2013 and 2-and-7 with a 4.81 ERA in 2014.

ALTHOUGH HE ISN’t 100 per cent healthy, Zack Cozart was back in the lineup at shortstop Friday.

“The challenge for any of the guys during the season is to play at 100 per cent,” said Price. “If we tried to play only guys who are 100 per cent neither team would be able to field a team.Everybody has aches, pains and issues. We really tried to focus on getting Zack as close to 100 per cent (with his leg) as we could. I don’t think he is 100 per cent, but he is perfectly capable of playing his position at a high quality rate and we’re excited to have him back.”

COZART ADMITS HE ISN’T 100 per cent and said he plans to pace himself, be cautious and not take chances.

“I’ll try to save myself for when I need it, and go from there. I’m going to be smart about it, with the injury I had. It doesn’t go away quick and you need more time.”

 

More time isn’t something that appeals to Cozart, who probably will start at shortstop for the National League in the All-Star game and win a donkey from teammate Joey Votto.

“I’ve been bored and this DL thing is not where you want to be,” he said, wearing a t-shirt on which is printed, ‘Vida De Burro’ (Spanish translation: Life of an Ass). “I’m excited to get back out with the guys and help us win.”

THE ALL-STAR VOTING IS over and results won’t be announced until Sunday evening.

“I’m glad the voting is over with — get that out of the way and now we just try to fous on winning games,” Cozart said. “It has been great and we’ll see what happens Sunday. It would be really cool to be a starter and to make the team.”

The evolution of Cozart as a hitter doesn’t surprise Bryan Price. Cozart is hitting .320 with nine homers and 33 RBI.

“It is experience and he has identified what kind of hitter he is,” said Price. “He has the confidence to hit with two strikes. He is ready to hit from the first pitch and he is less concerned with getting to two strikes. He has a very good two-strike approach.

“He has power, too, and sometimes guys who have power believe there is an obligation to get to that power,” Price added. “He doesn’t do that. When he started lining balls to right center a few years ago I started going, ‘OK, good.’ He finished that season really lining balls to right field and right center and I said, ‘This kid has so much more ability offensively.’ We’re seeing him playing at the highest level of his offensve ability since he has been in the system.”

JOHN TAMPANE, a fourth-year Majore League umpire who worked second base in Friday’s game, saved a women’s life earlier this week in Pittsburgh. He was walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge near PNC Park when he saw a woman across the bridge climbing the railing.

He ran across the street and grabbed her around the chest. He wasn’t able to pull her back, but he kept her in a bear hug until police and EMT’s arrived and she was pulled to safety.

FILE THIS UNDER USELESS information, but it is an interesting nugget. In games in which Joey Votto hits a home run, the Reds are 6-and-16.


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