Reds look to dull the Rays' shine as Tyler Stephenson is set to return to GABP this weekend

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages
1 of 3

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but the Cincinnati Reds (29-54) are on the brink of suffering yet another losing homestand. Heading into play this weekend, the Redlegs are 3-5 on the current homestand with an excellent Tampa Bay Rays club visiting the Queen City.

Yesterday's doubleheader-split with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates notwithstanding, the Reds have battled two of the best teams in the National League, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, before welcoming the Rays this weekend in the final home dates before the All-Star break.

Following the finale of the Mets series, the Reds found themselves sporting an abysmal 28-53 record at the midpoint of their 162-game schedule. If Cincinnati duplicates its first-half record to conclude the 2022 campaign, the 106 losses would be the most in franchise history, and only the second time the club will have crossed the triple-digit loss threshold.

The Rays pitching will look to impose their will against the Reds at GABP.

Needless to say, the Tampa Bay Rays (45-37) will present a monumental challenge for the Reds. Their 3.29 team ERA is the third-best among American League ball clubs. In addition, the Reds won't see a starter this weekend with an ERA north of 3.30.

Tampa Bay will need as much quality pitching as possible because their below-average offensive unit will not strike fear in any opposing pitching staff. Slashing .238/.303/.380 as a team, they are also prone to swing and miss. Their 713 punch outs were the third most in the junior circuit as play began yesterday.

Rays' sightings in the Queen City are rare. Since joining the majors as an expansion team in the 1998 season, this will be Tampa Bay's only third visit to Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati holds a 10-5 lifetime advantage over the Rays, including a 4-2 home record. How long has it been since the Rays visited southwest Ohio? Tony Cingrani was the winning pitcher in a Reds 12-4 win in April of 2014.

Previewing the pitching matchups: Reds vs. Rays

Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo vs. Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan

Today's La Piedra Day as Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo (3-4 3.09 ERA) battles Shane McClanahan (9-3 1.74 ERA) of the Tampa Bay Rays. How good has Castillo been over his last seven starts? Very good.

Tossing 43.1 innings over that timespan, Castillo has compiled an excellent 2.49 ERA and has only been taken deep three times. Additionally, he's held opponents to one earned run or less in four of those seven outings while recording 48 K's. That will do La Piedra. That will do.

It's safe to say, Shane McClanahan may be the best pitcher Reds Country has never heard of. The 25-year-old southpaw leads the American League in ERA (1.74), strikeouts (133), ERA+ (204), WHIP (0.81), hits per nine innings (5.8), and K/BB rate (7.82). So yeah, he's good.

Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene vs. Rays starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen

Reds rookie Hunter Greene (3-10 6.01 ERA) toes the rubber Saturday afternoon squaring off against Drew Rasmussen (5-3 3.30 ERA) for Kevin Cash's club. It's been tough sledding of late for the Reds' 22-year-old right-hander.

Over his last four starts, Greene has been torched for 19 runs in 19.1 innings. In addition, the gopher ball has been crippling the LA native's starts. He's surrendered seven round-trippers over those four outings.

Don't be surprised if the Rays go to the bullpen early in Drew Rasmussen's start. The fellow right-hander has completed six frames in only two of his 13 appearances. Next, don't look for the 26-year-old Oregon State alum to miss many bats. Rasmussen has fanned just 51 in 62.2 frames this season.

Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo vs. Rays starting pitcher Shane Baz

Sunday afternoon's series finale will feature Reds left-hander Nick Lodolo (1-2 4.19 ERA) opposing Shane Baz (1-1 2.92 ERA) of Tampa Bay. How good was Lodolo in his first start since April 24th due to a two-month spell on the IL due to a back injury? To quote Larry David, "pretty, pretty, pretty good."

Working 4.2 shutout innings versus a dangerous New York Mets lineup, the rookie southpaw fanned eight while allowing three hits in an 89-pitch performance. Look for another high strikeout outing from Lodolo on Sunday against the free-swinging Rays. The 24-year-old lefty has whiffed at least seven in his last three starts.

Fellow rookie Shane Baz has been equally as impressive in his last four starts. Tossing 22.1 innings, the 23-year-old right-hander has allowed just three runs on 16 hits while surrendering only one home run. A former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he's abusing left-handed hitters holding them to a ridiculously anemic .167/.268/.278 slash line.

Reds expect Tyler Stephenson back in the lineup this weekend.

Barring an unforeseen setback, catcher Tyler Stephenson will be returning to the club for the first time since suffering a broken right thumb on June 9th against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It's not hyperbole to say Stephenson is the most impactful player on the Cincinnati Reds roster.

For a team that is 25 games under .500, the Reds are 17-22 when the 25-year-old slugger is in the starting lineup and an embarrassing 12-32 when he's not penciled into manager David Bell's lineup card. An ill-timed trip to the IL is the only thing preventing Stephenson from making his first All-Star appearance.

Slashing .305/.361/.468 with five homers and 31 RBIs in 141 at-bats, the Georgia native consistently provides the most quality at-bats of anyone on the roster. However, he's more than just a dangerous bat in the lineup. Behind the dish, he's gunned down 32% of would-be base stealers easily eclipsing the 25% league average. Obviously, Stephenson is the complete package.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Charlie Goldsmith, manager David Bell, discussing Stephenson's return, was quoted as saying, "he's close and will join the team on Saturday or Sunday." I feel confident in speaking for all of Reds Country when I say, please activate the slugger as soon as possible.

Prediction: Reds vs. Rays

So much for home cooking. The Cincin are a woeful 15-28 at GABP this season. Unfortunately, Cincinnati's home record will not improve this weekend.

Look for Tampa Bay to capture two of three as the Reds will conclude their first half with a six-game road trip versus the 2022 juggernaut known as the New York Yankees and the division rival St. Louis Cardinals.

dark. Next. 5 Reds players who are untouchable in trade talks