By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Robert Stephenson the poet wrote a poem entitled, ‘Consolation,’ and that’s exactly what Robert Stephenson the pitcher had to take away from his Monday afternoon start for the Cincinnati Reds.
Consolation for a job well done, but no prize awarded.
Stephenson acquitted himself with aplomb over 5 2/3 innings, giving up ony two runs, six hits, one walk and striking out nine against the goal-oriented New York Mets, battling for a wild card.
And what did Stephenson get? His first major league loss. After winning his first two starts earlier this season in April during emergency starts, Stephenson could have become the first Reds pitcher to win his first three starts since Wayne Simpson did it 46 years ago.
A dormant and moribund offense provided the 23-year-old rookie right hander with no offensive underfooting and the Reds lost to the Mets and 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, 5-0.
“Colon was rolling pretty good and sometimes you tip your hat to the pitcher,” said Reds manager Bryan Price. “We had some situations, but they were against a pitcher who knows what he is doing. We saw a real masterful pitcher pitch a great game.”
AFTER STEPHENSON DEPARTED WITH ONE out in the sixth inning, trailing only 2-0, relief pitcher Alfredo Simon let it get away by giving up three runs in the seventh.
Long balls contributed to Stephenson’s demise, although both were barely poked over the short porch in right field, one by No. 8 hitter Matt Reynolds in the second and the other by Kelly Johnson in the fifth.
When asked about those short dimensions, Stephenson said, “That definitely doesn’t help pitchers, but it is part of the game here and is something I am going to have to deal with here because I’ll hopefully be pitching here for a while. So it something I’ll have to take into consideration.”
Stephenson said he considers these starts a platform for him to prove he not only belongs, but belongs in the rotation.
“Yes, I want to go out there and have fun and make the best of this season that I can,” he said. “At the same time, I’d say this is definitely an audition for next season. I’d love to be in the rotation at the beginning of the year in April. If I perform well, I’ll definitely get a shoe in.”
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE WAS APPROPRIATELY impressed, not only with the nine strikeouts, but moreso with the one walk. Command and control is what prevented Stephenson from spending more time in the majors rather than refining himself at Triple-A Louisville most of the year.
“I wanted to get ahead in the count more than I did today,” he said “There were times when I did get behind in the count, but I was able to get out of them by telling myslef, ‘Who cares if I’m behind in the count?’ But I did get some outs on some 3-and-2 counts and I do want to limit that,” he said after throwing 100 pitches in 5 1/3 innings.
“He was good and worked very well with (catcher) Tucker Barnhart,” said Price. Stephenson said he went with the game plan and followed Barnhart’s lead, “And I put all my trust in him and only shook him off once or twice and when I did I was really confident in myself. Other than that I was rolling with what he was throwing down there (signals).”
Added Price, “He had command at the bottom of the zone with his fastball and change and threw a small handful of breaking pitches for strikes when he was behind in the count. He has a fastball between 93 and 97 and threw a higher percentage of them for strikes, which has to be a part of his development.
“And he looked like a pitcher,” said Price. “He controlled the running game, didn’t invite them to steal with slow times to the plate.”
Stephenson most likely will finish the season in the rotation because of Homer Bailey’s uncertainty and the approaching pitch-count limit for Brandon Finnegan.
THE REDS HAD CHANCE AFTER chance after chance against Colon but couldn’t convert. They hit into double plays in the first two innings and have hit into six double plays in their lasts two games. On Monday, they were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners.
Eugenio Suarez singled and Tucker Barnhart doubled to open the third, putting runners on third and second with no outs. But Stephenson struck out, Jose Peraza lined to third and Zack Cozart flied to right.
Pinch-hitter Hernan Iribarren tripled to lead off the sixth when the Reds trailed by only 2-0. But Peraza flied to shallow right, Cozart fouled out to first, Joey Votto walked to become the potential tying run, but Adam Duvall fouled out to first.
Then Simon gave up three in the seventh and the Mets turned the game over to their bullpen after Colon shut out the Reds over six innings on five hits.
AS A SIDE NOTE, IT WAS the return to Cincinnati of Jay Bruce, traded to the Mets at the deadline this year. Bruce did not figure into anything the Mets did this day — 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and a line drive double play.
As for Billly Hamilton, out of the lineup with a strained left oblique, Price said, “It looks like it may not be a season-ender, but it will be several days before we look at it again for baseball activities. So it looks as if it won’t even be a subject for conversations over the next five to seven days before we can re-visit it to see if we can get him back into baseball activities.”