Prior to Friday night, it had been more than a month since reliever Robert Stephenson had stepped on the mound for a Major League game for the Colorado Rockies.
In his first appearance since June 18, the Colorado Rockies right-hander served notice that he is once again healthy.
Stephenson reacquainted himself with Coors Field by recording a season-high three strikeouts in a scoreless inning of relief in Colorado’s 14-2 victory against the Miami Marlins.
“Obviously, after missing a month, I just really wanted to get that first one back under my belt,” Stephenson said Saturday afternoon in an exclusive interview with Rox Pile. “It felt great being back out there.”
It has been a long wait for a return to action for Stephenson, who was placed on the IL on June 28 with upper back tightness. He underwent therapy and rest for the injury in the last six weeks before being reinstated to Colorado’s active roster Wednesday.
“I think the most important thing getting that first outing back was just to be able to throw strikes and get outs,” he said. “Not try to do anything fancy but just go out there and pound the zone.”
Stephenson did just that by throwing 12 of 17 pitches for strikes in the ninth inning against the Marlins. After surrendering a leadoff double, he settled down to get a pair of called third strikes before getting Miami’s Magneuris Sierra to feebly wave at strike three to end the game.
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“I think there is still a little bit of room for improvement on the command,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I was pretty happy with how it went, especially with the curveball. I was very happy with how that was coming out.
“Fastballs … there were a couple that missed,” he added. “But for the most part, I was pretty happy with how they were coming out, too. For a month removed from the last time I pitched in a Major League game, I was pretty happy with how it went.”
Colorado manager Bud Black was pleased with his reliever’s performance, particularly noting the effectiveness of Stephenson’s curveball that resulted in what Black called “three good punchouts.”
“I thought he looked good,” Black told media, including Rox Pile, after the game. “I thought the stuff looked crisp. Fastball, good velocity. Delivery looked good. The breaking ball is a really, really good pitch. That’s probably his signature pitch is that breaking ball, along with the velocity.”
The right-hander followed that with another strikeout in a short appearance on Saturday as he squelched a Miami four-run rally in the seventh by punching out Jazz Chisholm Jr. to end the frame with two runners in scoring position.
Stephenson showed earlier this season that he can be an integral weapon for the Rox bullpen. He had a 2.51 earned run average with two walks and 14 strikeouts through his first 15 games before a rough stretch that included a 7.71 ERA through his last 12 games from May 12-June 18 leading up to his being placed on the IL.
For the season, he has a 4.32 ERA in 29 outings. He has allowed 26 hits in 25.0 innings pitched with 13 walks and 31 strikeouts. He has an 0-1 record with a trio of holds to his credit.
Now that he has returned to action, Stephenson is ready to contribute in the final seven weeks of the season.
“I think we just keep going for the rest of the year,” he said. “I think that first outing was just a good chance to prove that I am healthy. We are trying to win games still. I want to do everything I can to help my team win.”