Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson has been out since June 9 with a broken thumb, but could return in the coming days. He is making a rehab start tonight with Triple-A Louisville which will be the deciding factor in if he can return to the Reds during their current homestand.
Stephenson has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise dreary season for Cincinnati. The 25-year-old was slashing .305/.361/.486 in 42 games before going down. The fracture occurred in the fourth inning of the Reds June 9 matchup against Arizona. With a runner on first, Stephenson was catching Tyler Mahle, who threw a 86 MPH, low and outside slider to Diamondbacks hitter Jordan Luplow. Luplow fouled the ball backwards and over the glove of Stephenson. The ball struck his throwing hand and Stephenson jumped up immediately, shaking his hand and staring at it while walking towards the dugout.
He was met by trainers and medical staff before being escorted into the dugout. After the game, Reds manager David Bell said the outlook wasn’t positive, and that Stephenson could miss “half the season.” Now, three weeks later, that tune has changed.
“Once I got out of the cast and started doing some stuff, I think it came quicker than we expected because I was picking up a bat, and I was like, ‘man, I feel good,’ ” Stephenson said when asked about how quickly he’s recovered. “Then it turned into tee, front toss and when the team was gone, I got to do a lot of stuff out here off the machine and saw live BP.”
The cast he’s referring to was removed on June 21, so he’s made all those advancements in a span of two weeks. One of the last boxes to check is: can he handle the vibrations of the bat when he is jammed at the plate or hits the ball off the end of the bat.
“Luckily, we had some of those today,” Stephenson said after taking batting practice on Friday. “Got all those out now. I had an issue with my wrist in 2016. Obviously, if you hit something perfect, everything is great. This game would be a lot easier if you could do that every time, but sadly that’s not how it is. It’s going to be the balls that get in on me, or off the end, and rattle. I hit off the machine to challenge myself and it felt good, so I don’t see any issues with it.”
Stephenson is one of a few catchers who keeps their throwing arm at their hip with runners on base. It helps with throwing out runners, but opens the door to injuries like the one he suffered. He said he has no plans to change his stance, though.
“Obviously, that’s the talk, but it’s funny, I’ve been watching games and you’d be surprised at how many guys are exposed. At the end of the day, it’s bad luck and bad timing. It is what it is. I will obviously be more cautious of it and we’ll try to protect it as much as we can.”
His return will hopefully add some juice to the Reds lineup. Cincinnati is currently batting .239 as a team, which is just below the league average of .241, but their offensive WAR is where the struggles become apparent. Collectively, they have amassed a 3.8 WAR, which is the fourth worst in the league.