By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — It was a lineup that might have drawn the ire of the baseball commissioner if Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price ran it out onto the field for a spring training game.
It was a lineup that had only three so-called regulars in it — Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Eugenio Suarez.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco, shortstop Zack Cozart and center fielder Billy Hamilton were all missing, given the day off because Price’s early-season protocol calls for the three players coming off surgeries to rest often.
And Brandon Phillips was home trying to soothe a stomach ache.
Mix in the fact that Robert Stephenson was making his major league pitching debut for the Reds and it was a mixture of potential disaster.
THANK GOODNESS FOR the Philadelphia Phillies, the only team to lose more games last year than the Cincinnati Reds and a team that figures to outdo the Reds in the Defeat Department again this year.
Two Reds regulars who did play made up the deficit — two home runs and five RBI by Jay Bruce and a grand slam home run by Eugenio Suarez.
Bruce’s three-run homer and the first career grand slam home run by Suarez both came during an eight-run fourth inning of a 10-6 Reds victory to complete a three-game sweep of the Phillies to open the season.
FOR THE YOUNG Stephenson, a 23-year-old right hander and the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2011, it was a more than passable debut — five innings, four runs (three earned), six hits, two walks, one strikeout, two home runs and a hit batsman.
It for sure Robertson surpassed the major league debut of Philadelphia left hander Daniel Stumpf, who walked out of the bullpen into a maelstrom. His earned run average is at infinity after he faced three batters and gave up two walks and Suarez’s grand slam home run.
It was a cameo appearance, an emergency-audition start for Stephenson because of the rampant injuries through the starting staff. Now he returns to Class AAA Louisville and awaits his next chance.
“It was a lot of fun, I had a lot fun out there,” said Stephenson. “My family and friends were here and made it even more of an awesome day. My off speed stuff wasn’t breaking that much so I relied on the inside fastball. I was settled in from the first inning on and it was just a fun, awesome day.”
SO WHAT DOES Stephenson take with him back to Louisville, other than his first major league win in his first major league start?
“It is always good to get the first one out of the way and get the jitters out of the way,” he said. “When I come back the next time I’ll be more prepared and more settled down. You make the most out of every opportunity you get. When I come back I’ll be ready to go for the long haul.”
There was a link to this game with the first two Reds victories over the Phillies — possible goats came back to be beasts.
In Game One it was Joey Votto who struck out his first three times then delivered a game-winning hit. In Game Two it was Scott Schebler, who struck out his first three times then delivered a game-winnings hit.
ON THURSDAY IT was Bruce. In the third inning when it was 0-0 with pitcher Charlie Morton on second, Ryan Howard singled to right. In his haste to stop Morton from scoring — and Morton had stopped at third — Bruce booted the ball, enabling Morton to score for a 1-0 Phillies lead. Bruce more than made amends.
“You look to your experienced players to shake something like that off,” said Price. “Jay prides himself on his defense and he is out there busting his tail, trying to make a play to save Robert a run. It didn’t happen.
“But he was able to compartmentalize it and focus on his at bats,” Price added. “What a productive day – three hits and five RBI, two homers. He has put a lot of work in. We all know how proud he is and he puts a lot of expectations on his shoulders to do the job he is paid to do. He is disappointed in his last two seasons.”
BRUCE’S SECOND HOME run tied him with Ken Griffey Jr. at 210 for career home runs by a Reds player. Bruce smiled at the comparison, but shrugged it off.
“I only have 420 left to catch him (for career homers),” Bruce said. “I better get going. To be even mentioned in the same sentence with him is special. I’m note worthy. He is a friend of mine and I got to see the way he impacted and changed the game of baseball. As for me, that’s me. I feel normal again.”
Bruce was more excited about the way his team has played, even though it is against the Phutile Phillies. They came from behind in all three games to win.
“The way we’ve won is even more important than the wins themselves,” he said. “We’ve made ourselves believe that we have the ability to come back in games and have everybody contribute. It has been a fun three games and you can’t do better than a sweep.”
MESORACO’S DAY OFF was planned — day game after night game and all that. Also missing was second baseman Brandon Phillips, shortstop Zack Cozart and center fielder Billy Hamilton.
Phillips was removed from the lineup just before Wednesday’s game with an upset stomach and he stayed home Thursday. “I don’t know if he is feeling better, but right now (before the game) he is home. I don’t know if he is coming in.”
Like Mesoraco, Cozart and Hamilton are coming off surgeries and the club is monitoring them closely. “We have Devin, Billy and Zack on certain protocols,” said Price.
“Billy could have the best chance to play today, but I want to make sure I got Adam Duvall (left field) and Scott Schebler (center field) out there together every now and again. This first month will be a month of select days off for those three players.”
On this day, Price chose the perfect time.