Stephenson delivers best outing of season

Without his fastball, Reds' top prospect keeps Pensacola off board

Robert Stephenson is 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA in eight games this season. (Michael Spooneybarger/Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

By Kelsie Heneghan / | May 11, 2014 9:56 PM ET

Robert Stephenson didn't have his top fastball working for him, but that didn't stop him from having his best outing of the season.

For the first time this year, the top Reds prospect did not allow a run, but neither did opposing starter Chris Beck. With zeros on the board until the ninth inning, Double-A Birmingham edged Pensacola 3-2 in walk-off fashion.

Stephenson,'s No. 17 overall prospect, scattered four hits and a walk while striking out five over six frames. The right-hander lowered his ERA to 3.72 and he has held Southern League foes to a .218 average.

"I felt really good," he said. "I didn't think I had my best fastball working, but my changeup was and I was able to throw my curveball for strikes. I was pretty efficient with my pitches."

While he pitched well, Stephenson did run across the same problem he's had all season -- trouble in the first inning. Of the 31 hits the ace has allowed this season, nine have come in the first. He has doled out seven free passes and has yet to record a perfect first frame in seven attempts.

On Sunday, the 21-year-old worked around a two-on, one-out situation to escape unscathed.

"I've been having trouble with that that entire year. My first innings tend to be a struggle," Stephenson said. "It was nice to get out of the first without a run scoring."

The 6-foot-3 hurler has been working with Pensacola pitching coach Jeff Fassero to slow things down and improve his early innings. One step the right-hander has taken is throwing to two live batters before the game.

"I think since the first few starts, I've been able to improve, working with my pitching coach … I've been trying to slow myself down, I was too aggressive," the California native said. "I think about my heart rate, I take a step off the mound and take a deep breath."

After throwing 89 pitches, Stephenson exited for his third no-decision of the season.

In the ninth, Pensacola got on the board. Steve Selsky singled and was bunted to third by Devin Lohman. He scored on a sacrifice bunt by Ray Chang. After back-to-back doubles by Rey Navarro and Brodie Greene, the Blue Wahoos took a two-run lead into the bottom half of the frame.

Trayce Thompson -- the No. 6 White Sox prospect -- led off the inning with a walk, and with one out, Kevan Smith singled. Christian Marrero took a 1-1 offering from reliever Shane Dyer over the left-field fence to win the game.

After a streak of seven scoreless appearances, Dyer (0-1) has allowed runs in his past two outings, raising his ERA to 2.08.

Chicago's No. 8 prospect Beck scattered seven hits and two walks while striking out one over six frames. The late victory made a winner out of reliever Ryan Kussmaul (1-0), who allowed two runs on three hits in one inning.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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