Coming off his worst outing as a pro, Robert Stephenson produced his best.
The Reds' top pitching prospect allowed one hit and struck out nine over six shutout innings Saturday night, pitching Class A Advanced Bakersfield to a 3-2 victory at San Jose.
"It felt great. I definitely can't think of any other games that compare," said Stephenson, who's winding down his first full Minor League season, "not in the experience I've had."
The 20-year-old right-hander combined to go 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA between Rookie-level Billings and Class A Dayton last season, then returned to the Midwest League this spring and posted a 2.57 ERA in 14 starts. Since arriving in the California League on July 19, he's 2-2 with a 3.05 ERA in four starts.
Stephenson split his first two outings with the Blaze while allowing three earned runs over 12 1/3 innings. But he lasted just 2 1/3 frames against Modesto on July 29 and surrendered five runs -- four earned -- on five hits.
"I had no control at all last time with any of my pitches," he said. "I had a lot of control [Saturday], with all of my pitches. I think [the key] was just getting ahead, whatever pitch I was throwing. I was getting ahead, really attacking the strike zone."
The California native mowed through the first 11 Giants before issuing his only walk, then ended the fourth inning with a strikeout. He fanned the first two batters in the fifth, but Chris Lofton poked a single through the left side to end the no-hit bid.
"I threw an outside pitch and he made good contact. I wasn't too disappointed," Stephenson said. "I thought about it. At first, it was a little frustrating, but it's nothing big. I just wanted to keep getting outs and helping the team to win.
"I'd throw the same pitch again, it was in the right spot. He just went out and got it."
Lofton stole second, but Stephenson ended the threat with another strikeout. The 2011 first-round pick worked a 1-2-3 sixth and, because he hadn't pitched in nearly two weeks, was not surprised he didn't get a chance to take the mound in the seventh.
"I already knew coming into this game that I had a limited pitch count," he said. "They wanted to keep me at 75 pitches for this one, so I wasn't disappointed to come out. They didn't say anything to me, but I figured the sixth would be my last inning, regardless."
Jimmy Moran followed with two scoreless innings, but San Jose got to Pat Doyle for two runs in the ninth.
Juan Silverio hit a solo homer and Kyle Waldrop slugged a two-run shot for the Blaze, who have won four of their last five games.