Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell has shared the same message this season with catcher Tucker Barnhart and catcher Tyler Stephenson.
As the Reds platoon their starting catcher depending on the opposing pitcher, Bell has told both Barnhart and Stephenson that it’s not for a lack of confidence in either of them hitting same-handed pitchers. He had to divide playing time somehow between the 2020 Gold Glove winner and one of the best rookie hitters in MLB, and a platoon split made the most sense.
“They’ve both had great seasons,” Bell said. “It’s worked out. I know they both want to play every day and they both deserve to play a lot, if not every day. We’ll continue to go in that direction though.”
For the first time in Stephenson’s MLB career, he started three consecutive games behind the plate this week. With the Reds facing three consecutive left-handers, Stephenson got the opportunity for the most consistent stretch of playing time of his rookie season.
Barnhart was back behind the plate on Sunday when the Reds faced right-handed starter Casey Mize of the Detroit Tigers.
“When either one of our starters does not start, I can clearly 100% say, it’s not about a lack of confidence or belief in what they can do off that pitcher,” Bell said. “In Tucker’s case, if there’s a left-hander, the quality of his at-bats has been really good all year. It’s more of a situation (that) there has to be a way to split time and to divvy up that playing time.”
In April, especially as the Reds faced almost exclusively right-handed starting pitchers, Barnhart started 16 of the Reds 25 games. Stephenson received more playing time at first base in May when Joey Votto was injured, and Barnhart started 18 of the Reds 27 games behind the plate.
Stephenson’s playing time waned in June, when he started only six games in a 20-day stretch. But over the last two months, Stephenson has hit his way into more opportunities
It’s helped that the Reds have faced more left-handed starters, but Barnhart and Stephenson had a 15-to-13 start split in August. Barnhart has been the personal catcher for starting pitcher Wade Miley, but the Reds coaching staff has split time exactly evenly between Barnhart and Stephenson when any other starting pitcher has been on the mound.
While Barnhart is having the best offensive season of his career, the left-handed Barnhart is hitting slightly better in a small sample size against left-handed pitchers. He has a .746 OPS in 277 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and a .771 OPS against in 49 plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers.
Stephenson, a right-handed hitter, has a .799 OPS against right-handed pitchers and a .816 OPS against left-handed pitchers.
With Barnhart and Stephenson splitting time, Reds catchers have the sixth-highest OPS in MLB.
BRAD BACK: After missing about a month with a right shoulder impingement, the Reds activated reliever Brad Brach from the 10-day injured list and optioned infielder Alejo Lopez to Triple-A.
Brach was the Reds best reliever for most of May and June. Then he had a 6.17 ERA in July and allowed five runs in one inning in August before going on the injured list.
“Honestly there was something going on but it was more fatigue than anything else,” Brach said. “I kind of hit a wall and couldn’t really get myself over that hump. Hopefully we’ve got on the right side of things now and I’m good to go. I’m hoping to pitch more like I did in that six-week stretch than I did towards the last three or four.”
LORENZEN’S IMPACT: Since the Reds had only two wins in a seven-day stretch, and since neither of those wins were close, Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen went more than a week without pitching out of the bullpen.
Lorenzen was back on Saturday against the Detroit Tigers, and he pitched two shutout innings.
“It was great to get him in there last night and two big innings,” Bell said. “You don’t see that a lot from anyone’s bullpen, getting two innings late in the game like that. He has done it several times for us.”