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Stephenson Makes Major League Debut, Wins for Reds, By Chuck Nan

May 02, 2016 07:42AM ● By Elena Hutslar

Robert Stephenson, a Martinez native and 2011 graduate of Alhambra HS, finally received the call he was waiting for on Monday, April 4, 2016. Because the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff was decimated by injury at the start of the season, Stephenson was promoted from Triple-A and officially on the opening day roster. Three days later, the 23-year-old was given the ball to start the final game of the season-opening series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park on April 7. Philadelphia is not expected to contend in 2016 and is in a massive rebuilding phase, as are the Reds. Nonetheless, facing major league batters for the first time is a challenge for even the best of pitchers.


Upon learning of his opportunity, Stephenson sent this message out on Twitter: “This is the day you dream of as a little kid. Could not be more excited to be joining the Reds on Opening Day.” After arriving at the ballpark, he told reporters that Reds officials had spoken to him before being sent down. “They told me to be prepared in case anything crazy happened,” Stephenson said, “but I was definitely surprised and I’m excited to be here.”


By the time Stephenson strolled to the mound, the game time temperature was officially 44 degrees and moist, nothing like conditions in his native California. Over the first two innings, the young hurler looked strong, as his fastball was consistent at 92-93 miles-per-hour. In those two frames, he allowed just a walk and a double.


Stephenson would, however, run into trouble in the third through fifth innings, surrendering single runs in the third and fourth and two in the fifth, his last on the mound. Three of the Phillies runs came as a result of home runs.


Thanks to some thunderous hitting by his mates, Stephenson was able to survive the day well enough to notch a win. The Reds rallied to break the game open in the top-half of the fourth as they scored eight runs, seven courtesy of home runs by Jay Bruce and Eugenio Suarez. Bruce smashed two on the day, finishing with five RBIs. Stephenson had a sacrifice bunt in the inning, which lasted more than 35 minutes. The Reds swept the three-game series as they rolled the Phillies 10-6.


In the victory, Stephenson finished the day with five innings pitched, six hits allowed, four runs (three earned) with two walks, a strikeout, a hit batter and two home runs. He threw a total of 87 pitches, 57 for strikes. Stephenson became the first Reds starting pitcher to win his Major League debut since Sam LeCure in 2010 versus Houston.


Along the way, Stephenson celebrated his first big league strikeout in the top of the third inning as he fanned Odubel Herrera with a fastball on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. “It was very exciting,” Stephenson told ESPN. “It’s good to get the jitters out of the way. I know what to expect when I come back now.”


After the game, Stephenson was optioned back to Triple-A Louisville. Twelve days later, another Reds’ starter was ailing and Stephenson was summoned again to the major leagues.


With the luxury of pitching at home, Stephenson tamed the Colorado Rockies in a masterful effort. He allowed just one run, three hits and two walks over seven strong innings to earn his second victory in as many outings. Stephenson also registered three strikeouts. Once again after the game Stephenson was back to Louisville, hoping the next time he is called up, it will be for good.


One item of note -- at press time, Stephenson is the only starter on the Reds staff to pitch seven-or-more innings this season.


Stephenson was Cincinnati’s first-round draft selection, 27th overall, in 2011 and since then has been consistently ranked as an elite-level prospect by Baseball America, ESPN and many other respected media organizations.


Stephenson was 8-11 with a 3.83 ERA in the minor leagues last season, splitting time between Double and Triple-A. He struck-out an impressive 140 batters in 134 innings. Going into spring training this past March, Stephenson looked to have a chance to break into the Reds’ starting staff, but struggled, posting a 9.58 ERA in four Cactus League starts.


Now part of the nucleus of a very young team, Stephenson is the seventh Reds pitcher to make his major league debut since the start of 2015. The hard-throwing right-hander has climbed the minor league ladder through Billings, Dayton, Bakersfield, Pensacola, and Louisville.


Stephenson graduated from Alhambra HS with honors as he sported a 4.2 grade point average. His senior season was memorable indeed, as it began with two consecutive no-hitters. He went on to finish with an 8-2 record and 1.19 ERA in 76 2/3 innings. With his blazing fastball, he recorded 142 strikeouts, while walking just 23 and allowing only 29 hits. For his efforts, Gatorade named Stephenson the “California Prep Baseball Player of the Year.”