Cincinnati Reds: Don’t be so quick to dismiss Robert Stephenson

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 18: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts during team scrimmage (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 18: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts during team scrimmage (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Reds reliever Robert Stephenson did not have the 2020 debut he was hoping for.

Robert Stephenson was, arguably, the Cincinnati Reds most improved player in 2019. One-third of an inning on Saturday has some fans questioning if that version of the former first-round pick will carry over to 2020 or not.

There’s no easy around it, Robert Stephenson did not start the 2020 season the way he’d hoped. After putting up career-bests in terms of games pitched, ERA, and WHIP, Stephenson served up a hanging slider to Austin Romine who kindly deposited it into left-center field. Two batters later, Stephenson was out of the game.

The home run by Romine closed the gap to one run and the following batter, Jacoby Jones sent a single into center field. Jones would eventually come around to score on Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer off Michael Lorenzen and Stephenson was charged with two earned runs.

Stephenson recorded a four-pitch strikeout of Niko Goodrum before being lifted for Lorenzen in the seventh inning. The version of Robert Stephenson we saw on Saturday was eerily similar to player we’d seen since his debut in 2016. Stephenson’s career-ERA before last year’s breakout campaign was 5.47.

But something clicked last season for Stephenson. After being a starting pitcher throughout his big league career, David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson moved Stephenson to the bullpen. The right-hander shined in his new role, putting up a 3.76 ERA.

More impressive might have been Stephenson’s career-best strikeout-rate. According to FanGraphs, Stephenson was punching out opposing batters 30.9% of the time. Even more impressive than that, may have been his career-low 9.2% walk-rate.

Walks will haunt, and they certainly did for Stephenson in previous seasons. During his brief four-game stint with the team in 2018, Stephenson’s walk-rate was a ridiculous 19.1% as the right-hander owned more base on balls (12) than he did strikeouts (11).

Both hits on Saturday came off Stephenson’s breaking ball. After throwing his slider 62.5% of the time in 2019, it’s very possible that both Romine and Jones had Stephenson well scouted. Perhaps the right-hander needs a better mix of his fastball, which can easily hit 95-MPH, and his slider in order to keep hitters off balance.

Stephenson was not the only Reds reliever to struggle over the weekend. Lorenzen gave up two crushing home runs which definitely contributed to Cincinnati’s late-game collapses, and Raisel Iglesias surrendered a two-run big fly in the top of the ninth on Saturday evening.

3 takeaways from Reds series loss to Detroit. Next

Fans were excited heading into the 2020 season, but some early-season hiccups from the bullpen have Reds Country on edge. The upcoming series against the Chicago Cubs will help fans see where their team stands. Don’t give up on the relief corps yet, especially Robert Stephenson. He was the last player to make the roster in 2019, and that turned out just fine.