By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Robert Stephenson is the Cincinnati Reds version of a First Responder, one who knows what to do in an emergency situation.
For the second time this year Stephenson was called up from Class AAA Louisville to make an emergency start, this time because scheduled starter Alfredo Simon has inflammation in his shoulder.
And once again Stephenson certainly was the Man of the Hour, totally mesmerizing and duct taping the Colorado Rockies for seven innings to help the Reds to a 4-3 victory.
STEPHEN SON, THE TEAM’S No. 1 draft pick in 2011, faced one of baseballs more potent offenses and held it to one run and three hits over seven innings. Significantly, he held the high octane first five in the Colorado batting order to 0 for 15.
And his reward for his 2-and-0 record and becoming the first Reds starter to pitch seven innings? Back to Class AAA Louisville as fast as the Reds can get him there.
“At this point, he has had two major league starts that have been good,” said manager Bryan Price. “But we still feel there are some things he can improve upon. If the need was here I’d be happy to have him but right now the need is not here. We do think he still has a ways to go as far as his development.
“We just don’t have the luxury of being able to keep him here,” Price added. “We don’t want him pitching in the bullpen. Coming into this year we thought there were some things Robert needed to work on and he can work on them up here, but our thought was that at this time of the year he would be pitching in Triple-A and continue to work on things. He can cut out a spot for himself in our rotation when we need it.”
DON’T TRY TO PASS that one off on the Rockies.
After the seventh inning, it was bullpen time, which nearly always this season has become Fright Night. And it was again.
Caleb Cotham pitched a perfect eighth and left hander Tony Cingrani started the ninth by striking out Carlos Gonzalez. Manager Bryan Price brought in closer J.J. Hoover and he quickly got the second out.
But Gerardo Parra bunted for a hit and Mark Reynolds hit a home run to center field that provided Reynolds enough frequent flyer miles for two round trips to Paris.
That made it 4-3 before Hoover retired Ben Paulsen on a fly to right to end it.
ASKED AFTER THE game how long Hoover’s rope is as the closer, Price said, “That’s hard to say and I knew that would be a question today after tonight’s game. It is kind of a tenuous point at this time. I really want him to be able to handle those situations, but we need performance. I’m going to sleep on it and I’ll have a better answer tomorrow.”
As for Stephenson, he fell behind, 1-0, in the second inning on a two-out double by Reynolds, a balk and a single by Paulsen. And that was it for the Rockies — period, paragraph, move on. They had only one hit from the third through the seventh. His only problem was a leadoff double by Paulsen in the fifth, but Stephenson retired the next three.
“Colorado has a really nice ball club and you know they are going to score their share of runs,” said Price. “They have power, they have speed and do some nice things offensively. Stephenson did a good job of not making too much of the situation. We just told him, ‘Just go out and pitch like it is a regular environment and pitch the way you do.’”
PRICE GAVE CATCHER Devin Mesoraco top props for guiding Stephenson through the tumult.
“That might have been the best-called game of the year,” said Price. “Devin did a wonderful job working with Robert, not always conceding fastballs in fastball counts. He was able to milk the curveball and change-up a fair bit and was able to pitch inside enough so those guys couldn’t just hang over the plate.”
The Reds scored all four of their runs in bizarre fashion in the second inning against left handed starter Jorge De La Rosa. Amazingly he struck out the side in the first.
But once the Reds got on base, it was Merry-Go-Round and calliope time. From the stretch, De La Rosa lifts his leg higher than the Rockettes and the Reds swiped five bases in the one inning, most of them with no throws and with nobody attempting to cover a base.
Billy Hamilton furnished the big blow, which was really a little blow, a hard ground ball that skipped high over third baseman Nolan Arena’s head for a two-run double.
Zack Cozart stretched his hitting streak to 10 game with an engaging battle against De La Rose in the second. Cozart fouled off four 3-and-2 pitches and on the 10th pitch of the at bat solidly lined a run-scoring single to left.
And Brandon Phillips came close to a natural cycle by hitting, in order, a single, double and triple. On his last at bat he needed a home run for the natural cycle but ruined it by lining a single to center, giving him a 4-for-4 night.