One of the first images shared by the official Cincinnati Reds Twitter account from spring training showed catcher Tyler Stephenson walking through the parking lot of the complex in Goodyear, Ariz. He wore a black hoodie and a big smile.
Entering his third full season with the Reds, Stephenson has a reason to grin.
“I’m healthy,” Stephenson, 26, said last week during a Zoom interview with reporters. “That’s the big thing. I’ve been really full go since Thanksgiving. Right around Reds Fest time (early December), I was kind of ramping everything up. Last year, I was kind of bummed with injuries, but we’re healthy, we’re good and hopefully we’re looking forward to the season with no injuries.”
Stephenson, the 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft, made his big-league debut in the 60-game 2020 season. He split the starting job with Tucker Barnhart in 2021. When the Reds traded Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers in November 2021, it gave Stephenson the opportunity to become the full-time starter.
Last season, Stephenson made his first Opening Day start and hit .267 through April 19. Then he went on the injured list April 20 with a concussion. He returned May 3, and the Reds were 1-9 without him.
Stephenson returned to the injured list June 10 with a right thumb injury. This time, he missed 27 games. He returned July 9 but went back on the injured list with a right clavicle injury and did not play again in the 2022 season.
Stephenson hit a career-best .319 but was limited to 50 games because of the three injures. He broke his thumb and his clavicle on foul tips. He suffered the concussion in a collision at home plate.
Stephenson visited the headquarters of EvoShield, which manufactures catching equipment, to talk about what went wrong with his injuries and how equipment modifications might prevent them in the future.
“I don’t know if it was a flaw or not,” Stephenson said. “That’s to be determined. Nobody ever knows. There was a 101 mile-per-hour pitch that hit me right in the collarbone. I don’t know if anything would have stopped that. But we went in this offseason, and we’ve got some extra padding. We made some adjustments, and I feel confident in what those adjustments have been. The chest protector feels good. Obviously, we won’t really know until we get into games and take some foul balls as crazy as that sounds, but I’ve been blocking and there’s been no issues so that’s a positive.”
Position players reported to camp on Sunday. The team’s first full-squad workout is Monday. The spring opener is Saturday vs. the Guardians.
With Stephenson sidelined most of the season, four different catchers started 20 or more games: Aramis Garcia; Austin Romine; Michael Papierski; and Chuckie Robinson. None of those players are on the 40-man roster this spring.
Veterans Curt Casali, who’s back with the Reds after two seasons with the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners, and Luke Maile, a Northern Kentucky native who signed with the Reds in November, join Stephenson in the spring rotation at catcher.
“I’ve spent time with Curt,” Stephenson said. “Everybody knows how great he is. It’s good to have him back. And I’m excited to work with Luke. There’s a guy that I work out with who’s with Cleveland who said a bunch of positive things about him. We’re all three looking forward to spending time together. Our goal is to make the pitching staff as good as possible. I know they come from experience and have a lot of knowledge, so I’m going to be learning from them a lot.”
Strickland returns: The Reds on Saturday agreed to terms with Hunter Strickland on a minor-league contract with an invitation to Major League spring training camp.
Strickland, 34, went 3-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 62 1/3 innings (66 games) out of the bullpen for the Reds last season.
Reds vs. Guardians, 3:05 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410
About the Author