By HAL McCOY
If Robert Stephenson was trying to make a statement that he belongs in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation, he graded out at about a D+ Monday night.
As one of the contestants for one of probably two available spots, Stephenson was trying to match or better what two of his competitors accomplished in their last starts.
On Saturday against the San Francisco Giants, Cody Reed pitched four innings and gave up two runs on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
On Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Amir Garrett pitched four innings and gave up no runs, one hit, walked one and struck out four.
It would appear at this point, nine days away from Opening Day, that Homer Bailey, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano are solidly into the rotation.
That leaves one spot left for Stephenson, Reed, Garrett and Michael Lorenzen. And Stephenson has done nothing this spring to wiggle his way into the rotation.
He only gave up two runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cub, but his first two innings was wild and wooly and the Cubs easily could have scored six or seven.
Stephenson gave up two runs and five hits in the first two innings and he threw a wild pitch, committed a balk and walked two. He threw 23 pitches and only 10 were strikes.
And five of the six outs in the first two innings were shady. Victor Caratini lined hard into a double play in the first and Kyle Schwarber scorched a line drive to shortstop that was turned into a double play in the second. And the last out of the second inning came when Stephenson threw a pitch in the dirt that eluded catcher Devin Mesoraco. Ryan Court tried to score from third, but Mesoraco retrieved the ball and beat Court to the plate.
The Cubs were plastering Stephenson’s fastball in the first two innings so in the third he threw only one fastball and went 1-2-3 with nothing but sliders and split-fingered change-ups.
Stephenson, 25 and the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2011, is in his eighth year in the organization and shown no signs that he is ready for the major leagues.
What Stephenson needed to do was watch his opponent Monday night, 37-year-old Cubs veteran Jon Lester. Stephenson throws harder with every pitch in his arsenal, but doesn’t have the savvy and command of Lester.
Lester pitched 6 2/3 innings and needed only 44 pitches to get there — 39 strikes and only five balls. The Reds collected nine hits off Lester and three runs, but nearly every time the Reds put something together, Lester adroitly squelched it.
For the Reds, Scooter Gennett returned to the lineup as the designated hitter after missing a few games with a sore shoulder and banged three hits. He is expected to return to the field at second base Tuesday night.
Jose Peraza also punched three singles. Phillip Ervin, a No. 1 draft pick trying to snag a spot on the team’s bench, had two hits. Devin Mesoraco, who appears as healthy as he has been in three years, had two hits and scored two runs and is hitting .355 this spring.
Joey Votto played all nine innings, the first time this spring and went 0 for 4 and is hitting .139.