OBSERVATIONS: Stephenson Finally Found The Right Spot In Tampa

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, ready to watch the survival drama of the last 2 1/2 weeks to see whether the Cincinnati Reds are a bunch of ‘A Star(s) is Born’ or if they are just star-crossed.

—CHANGING IT UP: Sometimes it takes a change of scenery for a person to find success. Sometimes it takes three changes of veneue to discover success.

Remember Robert Stephenso? Not the poet. He spells his name Stevenson. Robert Stephenson, the Cincinnati Reds No. 1 draft pick in 2011? He was drafted as a starting pitcher, but struggled. They said he was not receptive to change or criticism.

The Reds put him in the bulpen, in middle relief, in 2019, and he appeared 57 times with a 3-2 record and a 3.76 earned run average.

The Reds then traded him to Colorado, where pitchers go to die, the Pirates picked him up on waivers and then traded him in early June of this seaon to Tampa Bay.

It didn’t work for him on the banks of the Ohio River, didn’t work for him at the foothills of the Rockies and didn’t work for him where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers form the Ohio. But it is working for him in Florida.

He has been so good the Rays are using him in high-leverage situations. He came in to a game this week against Minnesota in the ninth inning with a one-run lead, two outs and the tying run on second. He struck out pinch-hitter Christian Vazquez on three pitches to preserve a 5-4 victory.

When the Rays got him from Pittsburgh for infielder Alika Williams, he brought a career 4.91 ERA and walked 4.2 hitters per nine innings.

His high usage of a cutter has produced a 32-to-3 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and in 21 appearances his ERA is 1.35.

—QUOTE: From poet Robert Louis Stevenson: “Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.” (It sounds as if pitcher Robert William Stephenson is doing just that, poetry in motion.)

—THE NUMBERS GAME: When old friend Bill Lawrence saw Detroit Tigers pitcher Beau Brieske wearing uniform number 4 when he appeared against the Reds, Bill asked, “When was the last time you saw a pitcher with a single digit number?”

Not that rare, Bill. When Domingo German pitched a perfect game this year for the New York Yankees, he was 0.

Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres wears 4 and Marcus Stroman of the Chicago Cubs wears 0. Adam Ottavino also wears 0 for the New York Mets. And Washington Nationals starter Mackenzie Gore wears 1.

Two former Cincinnati pitchers wore single digits after they left the Reds. Mike Leake wore 8 for the St. Louis Cardinals and Matt Belisle wore 9 for the Minnesota Twins.

Julio Urias wore 7 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but probably won’t wear any number ever again after his second domestic violance arrest.

And did you know that Bob Feller wore 9 his first year (1936) before changing to his famous 19?

—QUOTE: From mixed martial arts champion Max Holloway: “Numbers don’t lie. Women lie, men lie, but numbers don’t lie.” (And, pray tell, what do numbers have to do with a submission hold?)
—ALL ABOUT TIMING: It was a doubleheader in the Negro National League between the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs. A scout for the Milwaukee Braves named Dewey Griggs was there.

He watched the Clowns’ shortstop go 7 for 9 with two home runs that needed an air traffic controller to land. He paid the Clowns $10,000 for the guy. A guy named Hank Aaron.

In the same doubleheader, Kansas City’s shortstop made four errors and Griggs said he could have signed him for nothing. But he didn’t.

That shortstop’s name was Ernie Banks.

As they say, timing is everything — good and bad.

—QUOTE: From Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle: “After I hit a home run, I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.” (With 536 home runs, that means Mantle ran more than 35 miles around the bases with his head down.)

—THE INFAMOUS BILKO: When Steve Bilko played first base for the Cincinnati Reds, he shared an apartment with four other players. Bilko loved to cook and was so good at it the other players permitted him to do all the cooking.

They all signed a Mother’s Day card for him.

But he was better with a spatula than he was with a baseball bat, so the Reds sent him to Los Angeles and the Dodgers sent him to Triple-A Spokane.

Remember the TV show in the 1960s starring Sgt. Bilko with Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd? The Sergeant was more famous than the first baseman.

—JOKE OF THE WEEK: Despite losing by 10 points at home to Texas, Alabama retained its No. 1 ranking in the ESPN poll.

Say, what? While that game was being played, Spectrum and Disney were fighting over money (what else?). So Disney yanked ESPN off the air.

Did the ESPN voters all have Spectrum and didn’t see the game? Or is Nick Saban counting the votes?

—TURN THE STATION: The Sunday Night Football (SNF) and Monday Night Football (MNF) television folks had to be wringing their oily hands this week as folks all over the land switched channels.

On Sunday night it was the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants and it was 26-0 before Chris Collinsworth cleared his larynx.

Click. For those who changed channels, the Cowboys won, 40-0.

On Monday night it was the debut of Aaron Rodgers as the New York Jets quarterback. He lasted less than four minutes and left the game with an ankle injury and is out for the season, four plays into his Jets’ contract.

Click. For those who changed channels, the Jets beat Buffalo in overtime without Rodgers, 22-16. The game ended with an exciting 65-yard punt return for a touchdown during which Xavier Gipson ran through everybody but the third cheerleader on the right.

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