By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Watching pitcher Robert William Stephenson pitch is like watching author/poet Robert Louis Stevenson write essays.
Tedious. Tiresome. Monotonous. Boring.
On the other hand, watching Cody Reed come to Stephenson’s rescue was pure pleasure, welcome relief for the Cincinnati Reds, at least for 3 2/3 scoreless innings during a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park.
Stephenson was provided with a three-run lead in the first inning by his Reds teammates, yet he couldn’t survive the second inning because he couldn’t find home plate with a highway engineer’s sextant.
He gave up a walk and a single to the first two Indians in the top of the first, but wriggled out of that dilemma by striking out both Yonder Alonso and Melky Cabrera. But he needed 25 pitches to get out of the mess.
The Reds scored three runs in the bottom of the first off Shane Bieber but Stephenson couldn’t handle the prosperity.
He walked the first batter and threw a wild pitch. He gave up a run-scoring single to Greg Allen. With one out, he walked opposing pitcher Bieber on four pitches. With one out he walked Michael Brantley and manager Jim Riggleman had seen more than he could stand. He removed Stephenson for Cody Reed and a second run, charged to Stephenson, scored on a ground ball.
For 1 2/3 innings Stephenson threw 56 pitches, only 26 in the strike zone, while giving up two runs, two hits and four walks.
“The way I pitched tonight was unacceptable, can’t happen,” said Stephenson, who was just as bad in his first start five days ago. “I had a real hard time getting a grip on the ball. As much as I don’t want to give an excuse, that’s just the honest truth. Obviously between starts I’m going to have to find a way to figure it out so I can throw balls in the zone.
“I sweat a lot and I just really had a hard time today,” he said. “I’ve had the problem, but not as bad as I had it today.”
Of his four walks, Stephenson believes walks are just a piece of his game that is acceptable when issued at the right time.
“Walks are a part of my game, but walks I’ve been issuing lately are not the walks I want to issue,” he said. “There are times for it and there are times not for it and the ones lately are not the time.”
Manager Jim Riggleman is not a proponent of walks of any kind and said, “It is command of his fastball, not throwing enough strikes on his fastball and relying too much on the off-speed stuff. That’s his style of pitching but he threw almost 60 pitches in 1 2/3 innings. He has just got to do better.”
Cody Reed, Stephenson’s spring training housemate, arrived on the scene to put a muzzle on Cleveland’s bats for 3 1/3 innings, no runs, one hit. And he didn’t walk a single soul.
That ended, though, in the sixth when the Tribe scored twice to take a 4-3 lead on a a two-run wall-scraping home run by Melky Cabrera in the sixth.
Reed made a strong case for replacing Stephenson in the rotation with his performance, despite the game-winning home run.
“I thought Cabrera’s home run was a fly ball and I almost pointed up in the air to show where it is like you do on routine fly balls,” said Reed. “I got loose and ready to go when I came in. I threw a lot of strikes, filled up the zone. I was confident out there.”
Asked about moving into the rotation, Reed said, “Sure, but I’m here to do whatever Rigs asks me to do. If he wants me to come in early I’m the guy. I’m ready to work when the phone rings. If I get the chance again (to start) I am going to take advantage of it.”
Riggleman was as pleased with Reed as he was disappointed with Stephenson.
“Reed was here to pitch against this club (Cleveland) and he did a real good job,” he said. “Cabrera is a real good hitter and most of the home runs they’ve hit have been legitimate, but that one was a wall-scraper.”
The offense has to shoulder a heavy load of blame, too. The Reds collected 10 hits to only five for the Tribe, but Cincinnati stranded 11 and struck out 13 times. And they didn’t score in the last eight innings.
And they had the tying run on third and the winning run on second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth and failed to score.
Jose Peraza opened the Reds first inning with a double and scored on Scooter Gennett’s two-out single. Preston Tucker followed with a home run into the front row of the right field moon deck, his fifth home run of the year but first while wearing a Reds uniform.
The Reds tried to add-on in the fifth but all they accomplished was to get rid of Bieber. They put two on with one out and Indians manager Terry Francona brought in Oliver Perez, celebrating his 37th birthday while pitching for his eighth major league team (San Diego, Pittsburgh, New York Mets, Seattle, Arizona, Houston, Washington, Cleveland). Perez retired Preston Tucker, but walked Tucker Barnhart on a full count to fill the bases. Dan Otero was brought in to end the threat on Phillip Ervin’s fly ball to center.
Reed opened the sixth by walking Yonder Alonso and Melky Cabrera reached the left field seats with his third home run and a 4-3 Cleveland lead. Perhaps Michael Brantley wore him down in the fifth when he fouled off six straight pitches on a 2-and-2 count before grounding out to second.
Tyler Olson (one inning) and Cody Allen (two innings) held the Reds to no runs and one hit in the seventh and eighth, striking out seven.
Amazingly, the Reds put runners on third and second with no outs in the ninth against Cleveland closer Brad Hand — and didn’t score.
Billy Hamiton led the inning with a single and Jose Peraza’s was credited with a double when right fielder Brandon Guyer misjudged his fly ball and it bounced into the seats for a ground rule double.
Joey Votto grounded to first and Hamilton was thrown out at home, leaving runners at second and first with one out.
“Billy was running on contact,” said Riggleman. “I wanted him to run. Even if he was out (which he was) I wanted Peraza to go from second to third so we’d have runners on first-and-third with one out and Eugenio Suarez facing the left hander (Hand).”
But Peraza inexplicably stayed at second while Hamilton was thrown out at home. Suarez then struck out for the fifth straight time, tying a club record done eight times, the last by Jay Bruce.
Scooter Gennett walked on four pitches, loading the bases, and pinch-hitter Curt Casali flied to right field to end it.