By HAL McCOY
Robert Stephenson can’t seem to grasp the concept — a pitcher has to throw strikes in the major leagues or find another profession.
When Stephenson was sent back to the minor leagues in late May, after struggling while working out of the bullpen, the message Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price gave him was simple: “Throw strikes.”
And he did that for the most part at Class AAA Louisville and earned his way back to Cincinnati, this time as a starter.
He faced the Miami Marlins last week in Cincinnati and only walked two, but gave up five runs and eight hits in a 5-4 loss.
ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN MIAMI, Stephenson suffered a complete relapse. Strikes were hard to come by. He walked seven Marlins in only 4 1/3 innings and it led to a 4-1 Reds defeat.
Stephenson walked five in the first four innings and it didn’t hurt him, other than to mount his pitch count. The only run he gave up through four was a leadoff home run in the fourth to Derek Dietrick.
But it all collapsed in the fifth when he walked the first two Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. Both came around to score, although the Marlins had nothing more than an infield hit.
That infield hit came from J.T. Realmuto with one out and it loaded the bases and ended Stephenson’s night.
DREW STOREN REPLACED STEPHENSON and, uh what else, walked home a run and gave up a sacrifice fly — both runs applied to Stephenson’s work sheet — and it was 3-0. Stephenson gave up three runs, four hits, walked seven and threw 92 pitches, 44 out of the strike zone.
It certainly wasn’t what manager Bryan Price wanted to see and of the young pitchers on his staff he told Fox Sports Ohio after the game, “What we want to see is probability from these kids. We don’t expect the kids to come up and dominate. We want them to show us they can complete and that they are willing to listen to the coaches.”
The Marlins made it 4-0 in the 7th against Blake Wood on Christian Yelich’s single, stolen base and a run-scoring single by Derek Dietrick, his third RBI of the night (home run, bases loaded walk, single).
AND THE SUDDENLY DORMANT Reds offense couldn’t do anything against mediocre left hander Chris O’Grady, a pitcher the Reds had in camp as a Rule 5 draftee in 2015. But he didn’t make the team and the Reds returned him to the Los Angeles Angels.
O’Grady was released early this season by the Class AA Mobile BayBears and was without job until he went, hat-in-hand, to the Marlins and they signed him in May to a minor league contract.
Due to a bevy of injuries, the Marlins called up O’Grady early this month and there he was Thursday night feeding zeros to the Reds.
He held the Reds to no runs and five hits over seven innings and walked two while striking out five.
AMAZINGLY, O’GRADY STARTED the same game in Cincinnati that Stephenson started lasted week and he had Stephenson-like numbers in that game — 4 1/3 innings, three runs, four hits and six walks. But the Marlins won that game, 5-4.
ONCE THE REDS got rid of O’Grady they staged a four-hit uprising in the eighth that netted only one run.
Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto opened the inning with singles against Junichi Tawara. Adam Duvall popped up but Scooter Gennett delivered a run-scoring single for the Reds first and only run.
Scott Schebler, 3 for his last 42, popped up for the second out. Pinch-hitter Devin Mesoraco singled, but Joey Votto was held at third. He was thrown out at home early in the game trying to score from first on Adam Duvall’s double.
That filled the bases with two outs and the Reds down three, but Marlins closer A.J. Ramos retired Tucker Barnhart on a soft roller to first base.
Ramos pitched the ninth, retiring Arismendy Aclantara on a strikeout and Billy Hamilton (0 for 5) on a weak ground ball. Eugenio Suarez blooped a single to left, his third hit. Joey Votto walked.
That brought up Adam Duvall, the potential tying run. He hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning Wednesday against the New York Yankees during a 9-5 loss.
This time he popped up to second to end it.
In 15 career appearances against the Reds, Ramos has not given up a run and has recorded six saves.
After stranding 12 runners and going 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, the Reds have now lost 12 of 14 games since the All-Star break and are staggering at 0-and-4 for the start of this 10-game trip.
Of a positive nature, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart twice threw out speedy Marlins leadoff hitter Dee Gordon trying to steal second, the first time in Gordon’s career he was thrown out twice in one game. And of Stephenson’s pitching, Barnhart told writers after the game, “Ya gotta throw strikes. Ya gotta throws strikes in this league to get people out. We just didn’t do a very good job of it tonight.”