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PITTSBURGH – For the sixth straight season, the Cincinnati Reds ended their season short of the playoffs.

After concluding the 2019 season with a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, the Reds finished with a 75-87 record. It was the club’s most wins since 2014, but they fell well below their own expectations.

There was too much inconsistency on offense. They lost too many one-run games. After losing eight of their first nine games, they never returned to .500 for the remainder of the season.

Following six consecutive losing seasons, there certainly will be added pressure throughout the offseason. The Reds traded some of their top prospects for short-term additions. There is confidence about the starting rotation but bolstering the bullpen and adding some bats will be a priority for the front office this winter.

Reds manager David Bell met with most players for their exit interviews throughout the past week, with a few more scheduled over the next couple of days. Almost every player mentioned an added urgency to win in 2020.

“They are all unique conversations, but that’s the one common thread of the conversation,” Bell said. “There’s been ideas shared on how to make that happen. Everyone is talking about it because even though they might have different ideas of how they can contribute to that, everyone feels the same thing, it’s so close. I think we all agree we will look back at this year as a necessary year to go through.”

Tyler Mahle, pitching on short rest, tossed five scoreless innings in the season finale. He gave up three hits and zero walks, striking out five. Mahle thought his season was over after Wednesday’s start, but Trevor Bauer’s illness created an opening in the rotation for Game 162 and Mahle looked forward to a better ending to his season.

“I was excited to get a second chance at capping off my season with a good outing,” said Mahle, who found out he was starting Saturday. “When they told me, at first, they just said I might just be pitching at some point. I was hoping to be able to get out there.”

Aristides Aquino homered in the second inning, a 412-foot blast over the wall in left-center field. Aquino had 19 homers and 47 RBI in two months. He may not have a guaranteed starting role for next season, but he certainly put himself in the conversation.

The Reds expected rookie Nick Senzel to show he was capable of being an everyday player for future seasons. Aquino and Josh VanMeter pushed their way into 2020 plans.

“He’s really an impressive person, not only the kind of player he is but just how he’s handled this whole thing,” Bell said of Aquino. “Of course, you’re not going to be hot all the time. It’s been very impressive how he’s handled it when he’s not hot. He’s just steady, he’s really intelligent and has a great way about him.

“To me, he proved he belongs here just the way he handled himself when it wasn’t going great.”

Brian O’Grady hit his second career homer in the fifth inning, and Alex Blandino followed with his second career home run in the eighth. It was the first time the Reds won a series in Pittsburgh since Aug. 1-3, 2017. They lost their first eight games at PNC Park this season.

The Reds ended the season with a 33-43 record against National League Central opponents and a 42-44 record against all other teams. The magic number to make the playoffs was 89 wins this year.

Can they become a 89-win team by next year?

That’s the urgency they feel as Eugenio Suárez had another breakout season with a Venezuelan-record 49 homers, Sonny Gray’s comeback year and Luis Castillo’s emergence as a top of the rotation starter.

Over his career, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson has struggled to be a starter. In 2019, however, it looks like he found a home in the bullpen.
Former first-round pick Robert Stephenson has struggled to live up to the hype since he debuted with the Cincinnati Reds in 2016. He has shown flashes, but inconsistencies have led to many fans questioning if he would ever develop into a major league starter. While he hasn’t done that, Stephenson found a home in the bullpen this season.

Stephenson’s inconsistency has long-since stemmed from his lack of command and the number of walks he allows. This issue has plagued Stephenson throughout his entire professional career, especially after his first two seasons in the minors.

Robert Stephenson was one of the final players to make the cut coming out of spring training. At the time, I assumed there was no way that Stephenson would make the roster and probably be designated for assignment or traded since he was out of minor league options.

In his first season as a full-time reliever in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, Robert Stephenson has a 3.82 ERA, 3.68 FIP and a 120 ERA+, meaning he was 20% better than the league average. Stephenson seemed to get his command issues under control, as he has walked only 24 batters in 63.2 innings. Stephenson has also struck out 80 opposing hitters this season.

Stephenson cutting his BB9, which through his first three seasons in the big leagues was 6.5, down to 3.4 this year is flat-out amazing. Not only that, but his strikeouts per 9 has improved as from 8.4 strikeouts per nine to 11.4 this season.

I thought Stephenson would be no more than a long relief option out of the bullpen. This was the case for a good portion of the season, but as the year went on, David Bell began using Stephenson when the stakes were high.

The improvements Stephenson made this season has elevated his role on the Cincinnati Reds. Whereas he used to be though of as liability when he toed the rubber, Stephenson is now counted on during key moments late in the game. One has to assume that pitching coach Derek Johnson probably had a lot to do with Stephenson’s transformation.

While Stephenson was originally drafted out of high school to be an elite-level starting pitcher, things don’t always work out as planned. Look at former starter turned reliever Andrew Miller. After five failed seasons as a starting pitcher, Miller found a home in the bullpen and has been regarded as one of the more dominant relievers in the game.

After the success we’ve seen this season from Robert Stephenson, I feel confident in his ability to join Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias in the back of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen hading into the 2020 season.

It’s nice to see a player like Stephenson, who’s had so many struggles throughout his professional career, finally have a season that he can look at as a success. Stephenson gets an A in my book for his performance this season.

“I think it’s that healthy urgency that it should feel like that all the time,” Bell said. “That’s what teams that succeed feel like all the time. We have to win now. That is a fun way to play the game. It’s a fun way to look at it. It’s really the only way to play. It’ll be great that the fans feel that way, the entire organization, I know we feel that way here.”

The Reds improved by eight wins this year from their 67-95 record in 2018.

“Obviously, it’s still disappointing because I think we had a really good team here and we could’ve done a lot this year,” reliever Robert Stephenson said. “You look at the bright spots. Going into next year, I think we have a legitimate chance to be a team that’s going to surprise some people.”

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