By HAL McCOY
The Cincinnati Reds figured, or at least hoped, that Tuesday would be a good night, based on the opposing pitcher. But then the way the Reds have played lately a stuffed hippopotamus perched on the mound would give them trouble.
They were facing Jason Vargas, he of the 2-and-7 record and 8.23 earned run average.
They played for 12 minutes at Citi Field and the Reds had a 1-0 lead with runners on third and second with one out.
Then came the lightning bolts and a heavy rain the forced the umpires to call for the tarp and some card games in the clubhouses of the Reds and the New York Mets, a delay of an hour and 40 minutes.
When play resumed Vargas was gone. It didn’t matter as the Reds took care of manager Mickey Calloway’s parade of five relief pitchers, 6-1.
And the Reds did it with basically no bench. Joey Votto was out with a sore knee and outfielder Preston Tucker was in a protective boot after getting hit by a pitch Monday. That left Reds manager Jim Riggleman with only Dilson Herrera and back-up catcher Curt Casali on his bench.
Reds starting pitcher Sal Romano, with 200 relatives, friends and acquaintances in the stands, made sure Riggleman didn’t have to go to his bench. Romano held the Mets to one run and two hits over six-plus innings.
When he walked the first two batters in the seventh, he was replaced by Jared Hughes and Hughes retired three straight to leave both runners standing where they were when Romano left.
Jose Peraza started the game with a single and stole second base, then scored on the first of Scooter Gennett’s three hits.
Eugenio Suarez bounced a ground rule double to put runners on third and second. Then came the rain and the delay.
When play resumed, Paul Sewald was on the mound for the Mets and Phillip Ervin hit a sacrifice fly and Tucker Barnhart singled home a run to make it 3-0.
The Mets scored a run in the second on Brandon Nimmo’s two-out double a single by Jose Bautista that broke a 0 for 23 skid. Those were the only two hits off Romano.
Gennett singled with one out in the third and Phillip Ervin crashed a two-out home run over the left field wall for a 5-1 lead.
The final Reds run came in the ninth when pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera, a former Met, lined a home run into the left field seats.
Perhaps, though, the biggest news of the day was that the Reds called up Robert Stephenson from Class AAA Louisville to pitch Wednesday afternoon’s game.
Has Stephenson finally figured it out? His numbers recently at Class AAA Louisville are beyond gaudy. But he has been beyond gaudy in the minors before only to fizzle in several chances with the Reds.
The 25-year-old right hander has been seven years in the making since the Reds drafted him No. 1 in 2011. In 2014, he was MLB’s 19th-ranked prospect. By 2017 he had fallen to 82nd.
He finished last season with the Reds and finished strong, 5-and-2 with a 2.50 earned run average. Overall he is 7-and-9 with a 5.10 earned run average and in 121 2/3 major league innings he has given up 21 home runs and walked 72.
Now, though, is time to find out. He is out of options after this season.
“It’s time to see what he can do,” said manager Jim Riggleman before Tuesday’s game. “He has been very good his last five or six starts with a couple of dominating performances. You can’t ask the young man to do more than he has done down there, so it is time to see what he can do.”
In seven starts since June 25 at Louisville, Stephenson is 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA (six earned runs in 44 innings), allowing 23 hits, two home runs, 17 walks and striking out 55.
Stephenson’s 13 strikeouts in his most recent start at Columbus on August 3 were a career-high.
His 11 wins are tied for the International League lead, his 2.87 ERA ranks fifth, his 135 strikeouts rank second, his 10.75 strikeouts per nine innings ratio ranks second and his .184 batting average against leads the league by 32 points.
He won IL Pitcher of the Week from July 23-29, when he went 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA (two earned runs in 14 innings), allowing three hits with seven walks and eight strikeouts.
Now, once again, the Reds will see how that computes Wednesday afternoon when he faces the Mets and Jacob deGrom.