Reds' Stephenson gets another shot opposite Marlins (Jul 22, 2017)

BY AP • July 22, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Reds right-hander Robert Stephenson earned his way back to the big leagues with improved strike-zone command and a more effective slider.

The former first-round draft choice will make the ninth start of his MLB career and his first of the season Saturday afternoon against the Miami Marlins at Great American Ball Park.

"He's done what we've asked him to do, which is to pound the zone, and to work on his slider," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I see a much higher strike percentage and a breaking pitch he can throw for strikes, with the slider."

Stephenson, who will be making his first career appearance against the Marlins, walked 12 in his first 18 2/3 innings at Triple-A Louisville, but walked only one batter in his final 21 2/3 innings before being recalled Friday.

The mantra for young pitchers throughout the Reds' organization is to throw strikes, but that goes beyond walk totals. Price wants to see pitchers be confident pounding the zone, get ahead in the count consistently, and manage their pitch counts.

"I've really dumbed it down to say 'throw strikes,' " Price said. "It's commanding the strike zone that's going to allow these guys to be very successful here. But that means working ahead (in the count). The more you're ahead, the bigger plate you create. The more often you're behind, you shrink the plate."

Stephenson will face a stiff challenge on Saturday against a formidable Marlins lineup led by Giancarlo Stanton, who has 30 home runs this season -- including nine in his past 11 games.

Left-hander Chris O'Grady starts for Miami. O'Grady is 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA in two starts with 10 strikeouts and four walks in 10 2/3 innings.

"He's not overpowering, but he's a guy that can get it to both sides of the plate with a couple different pitches," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "That usually leads to success. He does what we ask of all our pitchers, to keep us in the game, get us in the bullpen, and give our offense a chance to get us in the game."

Cincinnati (40-56) made a lineup change to spark its offense for this series, moving Scooter Gennett into the starting role at second base to replace the struggling Jose Peraza. Gennett already has a new career-high 16 home runs. Peraza was 5-for-21 heading into Friday's action.

With Friday night's 3-1 win, the Marlins (43-51) snapped a three-game losing streak against the Reds, who took the last three games of a four-game set at Great American Ball Park the last time the clubs met last August.

Miami was on a six-game winning streak against the Reds prior to those losses, which marked the longest winning streak for them in the series' history. The Reds lead the all-time series, 107-82, with a 60-38 advantage at home.

"They're a team very similar to us," Mattingly said of the Reds. "They're able to put some runs up. Good back-end of the bullpen. A dangerous club all-around. Some speed in there, too."

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