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Stephenson gets back to basics
Righty strikes out nine in six shutout frames in Dayton's win
05/09/2013 12:21 AM ET
Robert Stephenson has 44 strikeouts in 34 innings this year.
Robert Stephenson has 44 strikeouts in 34 innings this year. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

A couple starts ago, saddled with an 0-3 record and 5.48 ERA, one of Robert Stephenson's Class A Dayton teammates suggested he try using his old mechanics from high school.

It was working for the teammate -- Sal Romano -- and so far, it's hard to argue with the results it's delivering for Stephenson.

The second-ranked Cincinnati prospect has won both his outings since taking the advice, most notably Wednesday, when he produced one of the best starts of his career. The right-hander scattered just three hits, striking out nine without issuing a walk, over six scoreless innings to lead the Dragons to an 11-4 win over the Lansing Lugnuts.

"It's pretty funny, [Romano] told me a couple starts ago to just try to go out there and do it, and I went out and it worked really well," Stephenson said.

Since reverting to the more natural mechanics from high school, the right-hander said he hasn't been as distracted on the mound and has noticed improvement in his command.

"I think I was working on staying too tall, kind of standing up when I was finishing and not getting the ball down. I was leaving the ball up and either getting behind or leaving it up and getting hit," he noted. "I've been working on mechanics so much, thinking too much. I thought it was worth a shot to go out there and not think about anything. I felt very comfortable."

Stephenson added that he felt as good Wednesday as he has in his whole career on the hill. Statistically, it was certainly his best showing of this season as he matched his professional-best nine strikeouts over a career-high six innings.

Last season, his first in professional baseball after being taken with the 27th overall pick in the 2011 Draft by the Reds, he went a combined 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA between Rookie-level Billings and Dayton. He struck out 72 batters while walking 23 in 65 innings.

Stephenson's ERA this season dropped to 4.76 in 34 innings. His strikeout rate has remained consistently high, with 44 in the 34 frames, and he's only issued 12 walks as well.

One of the things the 20-year-old said he was encouraged by this year has been the development of his changeup, which he pointed to in particular as a pitch that helped him succeed Wednesday.

"I threw [the changeup] last year. It was the first year I had thrown it -- I didn't throw one in high school -- but I've been getting a lot better feel for it the last few starts," he said. "[Reds instructor] Mario Soto was helping me with the mechanics on it last year, just telling me to throw it more like a fastball and not throw it like a changeup, and that helped a lot."

Offensively, Nick O'Shea paced the Dragons on Wednesday with a home run and four RBIs. He has three homers in his last four games. Tannier Rahier added a two-run shot as well.

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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