Reds will give Stephenson time off from rigors of catching

Published 1:06 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

GOODYEAR, AZ (AP) — Catcher Tyler Stephenson is one of the cornerstones of a multiyear rebuild of the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds want to make sure the 26-year-old is fresh and healthy enough to give them 140 to 150 games a year, even if there are fewer starts at his natural position behind the plate.

Stephenson was the Reds best hitter last year, but played only 50 games because of a series of injuries, including a concussion on a collision at the plate and a broken collarbone and broken thumb.

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“He just had bad luck,” said second baseman Jonathan India, another one of the team’s young stars who was limited by injuries in 2022.

“There’s a lot of luck that comes with this game. He just didn’t get the right end of the stick. But he controls his attitude the best I’ve ever seen.”

As pitchers and catchers reported to the spring training facility in Goodyear, Arizona, last week, Reds manager David Bell said he’s planning for Stephenson to start around 65 games behind the plate and about 80 at first base or as DH. The manager even went through the schedule and mapped out a daily plan for Stephenson.

“It made the most sense,” Bell said. “I believe it was four out of 10 (catching),” Bell said. “It was about three at DH, two at first out of 10, and then one off-day.”

Stephenson has mixed feelings. He wants to continue to be known as a catcher, but he knows the plan makes sense for his longevity.

“I know it will give me more days of rest,” he said. “It’s going to be new territory for me. We’re going to adapt and see how it goes. I’m confident that it’s going to go well and I will feel fresher, and that will be a big thing going forward.”

To prepare, the Reds signed veteran catchers Curt Casali — who played for Cincinnati in 2018-2020 — and Luke Maile — to share catching duties.

Stephenson split time with veteran Tucker Barnhart in 2021 and became the No 1. catcher last season after Barnhart was traded to Detroit.

The Reds struggled offensively when Stephenson went out.

Joey Votto’s status may determine where Stephenson will fit in the lineup when he’s not behind the plate. The 39-year-old first baseman/DH — entering the final year of a 10-year contract — had surgery in August for tears in both the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder.

Votto is still rehabbing and it’s not clear if he’ll be ready to start the season. Stephenson has been working at first base to get ready to play there.

The three catchers will be expected to bring along a young pitching staff. The presumptive top three starters, Hunter Green, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft, all will be in just their second seasons.

“I’m hoping to be a part of this team for a long time,” Stephenson said. “The pieces are starting to align.”

Full squad spring training workouts began Monday. The Reds open the season March 30 at home against Pittsburgh.