Is Robert Stephenson broken?
The Low-A Dayton Dragons were down on their luck in April, finishing the month with a 8-17 record and quickly nearing the East Division cellar. Dayton ranked last in the Midwest League in team batting (.215), on-base percentage (.278), and slugging percentage (.307). More minor league fans, however, were concerned with issues across the diamond. Top pitching prospect and 2011 first-round selection Robert Stephenson was off his game, drawing an 0-3 record with a 5.48 ERA in the season’s opening month. Here was a pitcher who lost four games in fifteen games last season, but dropped three of his last five games. Thus begs the question, is Robert Stephenson broken?
Rhetorical as it is, there may have been some truth to the statement. Teammate Sal Romano recognized Stephenson’s struggles and suggested a return to a more workable delivery. In a May 9 article featured on MiLB.com, the fresh-faced fireballer used his bag of tricks from high school and hit the jackpot. With a smoother delivery, Stephenson has roared out of the gate with five wins in his last six decisions while dropping his earned run average to 3.32, the sixth-best in the Reds system.
His numbers in May represent a turnaround of epic proportions: with a sub-two ERA and forty-six strikeouts against only eight walks, opponents are batting an anemic .164 with just nine runs. With two banner nights and some much-needed run support, Stephenson has granted only one earned run while striking out seventeen batters across his last two appearances. He narrowly missed a no-hitter last night, hitting his pitch limit in the seventh before exiting with a six-run lead. The MLB-ranked No. 2 Reds prospect and forty-sixth best in baseball told Brandon Simes that the readjustment is pivotal to his success:
Sometimes I just have to go with what I got, but I’ve had a pretty good feel for my pitches.
…There are a few things that I’ve worked on mentally — not trying to do too much, working in the bullpen with pitching coach Tony Fossas on all my pitches and getting the ball down.
The Dragons (23-31) will close the month with a winning record (15-14 in May) as they try to climb back to the top of the standings. But with their ace back in the fold and the addition of Nick Travieso, Dayton is primed for a monstrous month.
Kourage Kundahl is the lead blogger and editor of Hook, Line, and Sinker, the official blog of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, as well as a contributing writer to Blog Red Machine. You can keep up with him as he live-tweets every Wahoos game by following @wahoosblog.