Reds will give Tyler Stephenson time off from rigors of catching

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.

Tyler 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.

“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.

Trevor Bauer pulls on No. 96 for Yokohama’s BayStars

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images
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YOKOHAMA, Japan – Trevor Bauer apparently was shunned by every major league team, so he’s signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Before about 75 reporters in a Yokohama hotel, he slipped on the BayStars uniform – No. 96 – on Friday and said all the right things. Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States over domestic violence allegations or the reasons surrounding it.

The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to pitch again. I’ve always wanted to play in Japan.”

He said the suspension dealt technically with matters of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He said he would have been eligible, but did not say if he had offers.

The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 12, three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.

The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence, which the pitcher has denied.

Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.

Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.

Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.

Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph – hence his uniform number. He said he is also working on a better change-up pitch.

He said he hoped to play by mid-April – about two weeks after the Japanese season begins – and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn’t really take any time off. So I’ve had a year and a half of development time. I’m stronger than ever. More powerful than ever.”

Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.

“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions – you know – share my knowledge with them.”

He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young – and also immediately after.

“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I’d never played in front of that many people – probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren’t very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me.”

He said he’d been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.

“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don’t notice much of a difference.”

Other teams in Japan have made similar controversial signings before.

Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna – who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy – signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.

Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.