By HAL McCOY
The maturation process for the young Cincinnati Reds pitching staff continues to progress at a rapid rate.
This time it was 24-year-old Robert Stephenson. Again.
For the fourth straight start Stephenson showed why the Reds made him a No. 1 draft pick in 2011 and patiently waited six years for the tall, slim right hander to find his way.
Stephenson pitched six shutout innings and fiercely guarded a 1-0 and 2-0 lead against the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park.
After he left in the seventh with a 2-1 lead, his teammates broke it open in the seventh with five runs, including a three-run home run by Scooter Gennett. From there the Reds scooted to a 9-3 victory.
Gennett’s 24th home run, to go with 85 RBI, was a big take that to the Brewers, the team that put him on waivers at the end of spring training, enabling the Reds to pick him up.
Stephenson made a stout statement in the fourth inning that he belongs. With the Reds leading, 1-0, Stephenson walked two and gave up a hit to load the bases with no outs.
In the past that would have meant total collapse. Not this time, not now. Stephenson bowed his back and struck out the side, whiffing Domingo Santana, Stephen Vogt and Jonathan Villar.
Through six innings Stephenson had given up no runs and two hits. But when he gave up back-to-back doubles to Santana and Vogt to start the inning his night was finished.
Asher Wojciechowski replaced him and filled the bases with a couple of walks but ended the threat by striking out Neil Walker on three pitches.
So Stephenson, whose earned run average over his previous three starts was 2.70, gave up one run and four hits and struck out seven. His only black mark was five walks.
With Stephenson’s effort, Reds starting pitchers — four rookies and Homer Bailey — have not given up more than three earned runs in any start since August 23.
The Reds had a tough assignment in facing Milwaukee starter Zach Davies, who was 16-7 with a 3.85 ERA. And he gave up one earned run and six hits over 5 2/3 innings.
The Reds first run was unearned when Stephenson led the third with a hard line drive to center field that deflected off Jonathan Villar’s glove for a two-base error. Billy Hamilton bunted Stephenson to third and he scored on Zack Cozart’s bloop double to center for a 1-0 lead.
The Reds made it 2-0 in the sixth when Scooter Gennett doubled with two outs and Eugenio Suarez singled.
The third run was a gift, a wild pitch by relief pitcher Jacob Barnes with Joey Votto at the plate with the bases loaded. Adam Duvall’s sacrifice fly made it 4-1 and Gennett’s home run pushed it to 7-1.
The excitement, though, wasn’t over. Rookie Ariel Hernandez came on to pitch the eighth and didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced. It went walk, Travis Shaw home run, walk, walk.
That forced manager Bryan Price to bring in closer Raisel Iglesias and he retired three straight — the first two on hard hit line drives and the third on a strikeout.
The Reds added two runs in the eighth when bunt-challenged Billy Hamilton put down a perfect safety squeeze and Zack Cozart pulled a two-out run-scoring single.
It was amazing that the Reds got away with this one because their pitchers walked 10. But the Brewers scored only three times as the Reds won the second straight game in this three-game series.