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MWL notes: Stephenson gains steam
Dayton's 'stubborn' righty showing improved control, velocity
05/23/2013 10:00 AM ET
Robert Stephenson is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four May starts.
Robert Stephenson is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four May starts. (Great Lakes Loons)

Robert Stephenson leaned against a cinder block wall in the tunnel outside of the Dayton Dragons' clubhouse, smiling when he heard pitching coach Tony Fossas had called him "a little bit stubborn."

"I could say that," said Stephenson, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander selected 27th overall by the Reds in the 2011 Draft. "Sometimes I want to refuse some of the things that [Fossas] tells me to do. Once I realize that it's better for me … I feel comfortable with what I'm doing."

Fossas said Stephenson, drafted out of Alhambra High School in Martinez, Calif., has to figure things out for himself.

"A lot of trial and error works with Robert," Fossas said. "I let him do things he wants to do, and when he doesn't see the success factor there, then he's a lot easier to coach, but that works with everybody. A player or a pitcher who is always a 'yes' person, who wants to always please the pitching coach or the scouts, is a guy who won't make it."

Stephenson seems to have figured things out lately.

After starting out 0-3, Stephenson has evened his record and, in his last three starts, allowed three runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out 25 in 19 innings. He's lit up radar runs at 99 mph, but that isn't the only reason he's turned the corner.

"What's been really big for me is having command of all of my pitches," Stephenson said. "Getting ahead in the counts has really been helping me. The velocity isn't a big thing as long as I can command my pitches."

Stephenson is also enjoying the opportunity to pitch more this season.

"This year hasn't been as frustrating as last year, because they were limiting my pitch count," Stephenson said. "It was five innings or 75 pitches. I respect it. There was nothing I could do about it. It's been really nice this year not to have that."

Fossas sees great possibilities for Stephenson.

"Robert has all the God-given talent to proceed," Fossas said. "He's blessed. Now, can he put everything to work and maintain his health? Can he maintain his endurance year after year? He's willing to learn -- he's willing to try things. He does have a little stubbornness, but I like that. He has a great work ethic, and as a person, he's off the charts."

In brief

Welcome to Dozer Park: Peoria's O'Brien Field has been renamed Dozer Park. Caterpillar Inc., which is based in Peoria and known worldwide for manufacturing bulldozers, recently worked out a 10-year, $2 million deal with the Chiefs for naming rights to the stadium.

A grand walk-off: Byron Buxton, the Minnesota Twins' first-round pick last season and the second overall selection, belted a walk-off grand slam to give Cedar Rapids a 7-6 victory against Burlington on May 16. Buxton's slam was a mammoth shot to left field with one out in the ninth inning and erased a 6-3 deficit. Bees reliever Jairo Diaz, who played for the Kernels last season, plunked Travis Harrison, gave up a one-out double to Candido Pimentel and plunked Tyler Grimes before Buxton's big blast. Buxton has been tearing up the Midwest League, batting .317 and leading the league in runs scored while sitting second in extra-base hits, tied for third in steals and slugging and fifth in on-base percentage.

Homer-tagged: Great Lakes went into Saturday's game against Lansing allowing only two homers in the month of May, second lowest in the league. By the time the game ended, the Loons had given up five for the month. Lansing beat Great Lakes, 9-2, as Kevin Patterson hit a three-run homer and a bases-loaded double to finish with six RBIs, Dwight Smith Jr. belted a two-run homer and Balbino Fuenmayor added a solo shot.

Curt Rallo 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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