CINCINNATI — With Wednesday’s day game vs. the Brewers following a night game, Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson was given a break from working behind the plate. But Stephenson’s bat has been too valuable for it to be parked for an afternoon.
As the designated hitter during a 14-11 slugfest win over Milwaukee, Stephenson went 3-for-5 with four RBIs as the Reds completed back-to-back series wins on their homestand.
“I was going to give him the full day off today because I want to keep him [healthy], and I had to be reminded by a couple coaches, ‘Maybe keep him in there as a DH,’” Reds manager David Bell said. “I’m grateful for that communication. It paid off. He’s going to need days off here and there. When we can keep him in the lineup, he showed how important he is.”
Against Adrian Houser, Stephenson hit an RBI double to left field in the first inning, and his three-run double to left field in the second inning opened a 7-0 lead for Cincinnati.
In nine games since he returned from a concussion last week, Stephenson is batting .379 (11-for-29) with five doubles and 11 RBIs.
“I’m just trying to simplify and obviously just get a good pitch to hit and be on time,” Stephenson said. “That’s the biggest thing. I don’t ever try to do too much. When you do, nothing good ever really happens. Just try to be simple and get a good pitch to hit.”
The Reds (7-24) spent much of the first month at or near the bottom of MLB rankings in team OPS, batting and runs. They’re still a distant last in run differential at minus-72. With lineup mainstays Jonathan India, Joey Votto and Nick Senzel among those on the injured list, other hitters are finally showing signs of clicking as the team’s offense begins to trend upward.
During its 4-2 homestand, Cincinnati scored 49 runs and that included three games of nine or more runs.
“The guys that have stepped in for them are playing really well and I love to see that, man,” Reds left fielder Tommy Pham said. “As we’ve played more games, guys are getting more comfortable, timing is back offensively, weather is starting to heat up, so you’re starting to see the ball carry a little bit further, which all plays to a hitter’s advantage.”
Other Reds who are improving offensively include:
• Tyler Naquin was struggling and dropped from the leadoff spot to fifth on Sunday. He hit seventh the last two games. Naquin hit a two-run double with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 5-4 loss. In his 2-for-4 day on Wednesday, Naquin’s three-run triple in the first inning gave his team a 4-0 lead.
“We know what he’s capable of. It’s a long year, you go through ups and downs,” Bell said. “You can see when he’s starting to come out of it. You gain confidence and your at-bats get better. It’s what we saw a few days ago. It’s come up over the last couple games.”
• Colin Moran — who has started at first base for Votto in the last nine games — hit four homers on the homestand, including a three-run drive to left field in the six-run bottom of the eighth inning. Cincinnati would need the insurance runs for its bullpen when Milwaukee scored six runs of its own in the top of the ninth.
• Pham, who ranks in the 97th percentile for average exit velocity by Statcast, hit an eighth-inning single at 108 mph during his three-hit, two-run game after he was 2-for-17 on the homestand entering the day.
“Individually speaking, I have to clean up some areas of my game to help us win a little bit more games,” Pham said. “I can improve. I’m striking out a little bit too much. That’s very uncharacteristic. I don’t think I’m hitting my barrels as hard as I’ve done in the past, so I’m working to do my part.”
• Mike Moustakas, who hit an RBI single in the eighth, endured two injury-filled, subpar seasons for Cincinnati after signing a four-year, $64 million contract as a free agent. After the time off during his latest IL stint, he felt he was finally in a rhythm at the plate. That’s shown in his .350 average (14-for-40) in his last 12 games.
“I definitely feel better. My swing feels better,” Moustakas said. “Everything just feels a little bit more locked in right now. I’ve had way too much time off. [The break] might have helped me a little bit, but I like playing the game. I like being out there with the boys and competing with everybody.”