The Colorado Rockies made a trade on Wednesday, acquiring pitcher Robert Stephenson from the Cincinnati Reds. Where does Stephenson fit into Colorado’s plans for the 2021 season?
The year was 2019 and Robert Stephenson was putting together a solid season for the Cincinnati Reds. The former first-round pick was in his first full season coming out of the bullpen and was thriving. He would finish with a 3.76 ERA in 57 appearances spanning 64.2 innings. A WHIP of 1.036, ERA+ of 125, and FIP of 3.63 were signs that the right-hander had settled nicely into his role.
Part of that 2019 success came against the Colorado Rockies. On July 14 at Coors Field, Stephenson needed just 22 pitches to sail through two hitless, scoreless innings, striking out four. Twelve days later, in Cincinnati, Stephenson was once again dominant, hurling three hitless, scoreless frames, striking out three and walking two.
In his career against Colorado, Rockies batters hit just .106 in 52 plate appearances. That includes a 1-for-10 mark in two games throwing at Coors Field.
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All of those numbers were not lost on Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich, who spoke highly of Stephenson during a conference call with Rockies media, including Rox Pile, on Wednesday afternoon.
"“We’ve been paying attention for a while, and it hasn’t been difficult because he’s been a high-profile guy for a long time,” Bridich said. “As we look to the past, to 2019, in a very small sample size, but a good sample. Mr. Robert Stephenson had a good performance against us at Coors Field. He’s always had a lot of talent. He’s always had a lot of weapons. I think this is a classic potential change of scenery where there are maybe some different voices and different relationships for both guys (Stephenson and Jeff Hoffman, who was traded by the Rockies to the Reds) and have something click for both of them.”"
Certainly 2019 wasn’t the first time that Bridich had seen Stephenson, as he mentioned during the call he had watched him pitch as far back as the California League. And certainly 2019 isn’t the end of Stephenson’s story as 2020 saw him struggle with a back strain (going on the injured list early in the season) and a lack of success on the mound (11 runs allowed in 10 innings, thanks in big part to eight homers surrendered).
Picture this: Eight of the 11 hits given up by Stephenson in 2020 left the yard. That thought brings back memories of Kyle Kendrick for Rockies fans, but Colorado is banking on the Stephenson of 2019 showing back up in 2021.
At least that’s the hope, and with Stephenson likely sliding into a long relief role in the Rockies bullpen, Colorado will need him to be the bridge that Hoffman and others showed they could be at times but no one could settle into the role after Chris Rusin’s spectacular 2017 campaign. Without any minor league options, Stephenson is virtually guaranteed to start the 2021 season as a member of the Colorado bullpen.
There were high hopes for Stephenson heading into 2020 as he was considered to be a key part of the Cincinnati bullpen and part of this highlight reel. Check out some of Stephenson’s deliveries below.
There are also high hopes for Stephenson coming to Colorado. If he can show the skills he displayed against Colorado in 2019, he could be an answer to move the game from the rotation to a back end of the bullpen featuring Mychal Givens, Daniel Bard, and, if all goes well, a return by Scott Oberg.