David Bell, manager of Cincinnati Reds, says getting two catchers into constant playing time can be easier than any other position.
This season he has a daily choice between Tucker Barnhart, the reigning gold glove winner who has one of the best offensive streaks of his career, and Tyler Stephenson, the 2015 first round winner of the franchise, who made a leap forward in his second major league season .
“(Barnhart) is currently getting two out of three (starts),” said Bell. “But there will be other times of the year when that might be reversed, depending on the situation.”
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In the past 10 seasons, the Reds have only had two above average hit times from their catchers. Curt Casali and Devin Mesoraco were the only Reds catchers with 50+ record appearances to get an OPS + over 100 in one season.
So far, Barnhart and Stephenson have both done well above average.
After the Reds’ seventh game of the season, Barnhart has made five starts and ranks third among the catchers in the batting average (.444) and OPS (1.251). Stephenson has started the other two games and is fifth in the batting average and seventh in the OPS among the catchers with more than 10 bats.
A few changes to Barnhart’s swing have resulted in a better track at the start of the season than at any point in 2020.
Barnhart’s progress began last season when he had an average of .241 against right-handed and a base percentage of .318. In 2021, Barnhart said his plan was “right thinking” and hitting line trips across the field.
“I may not have expected this, but I was expecting something similar,” said Barnhart. “I’ve worked tirelessly this off-season just trying to get myself into the best position with every stroke to get my best swing and it works. I just have to get good places all the time. “
As in his entire career, the reigning Gold Glove Award winner made a significant defensive impression. Against the St. Louis Cardinals, Barnhart climbed juggling to save a strike.
He also has a deep understanding of the Reds pitching team that Barnhart worked with to get the Reds out of some traffic jams in their 6-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.
With the relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, Barnhart called a fastball-oriented game plan to secure a goalless inning. After the relief pitcher Lucas Sims allowed a home run in the eighth inning, Barnhart went to the mound, notified Sims that the three biggest outs of the game were ahead of them and helped Sims get the Reds to additional innings.
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After taking the save in the 10th inning, Amir Garrett credited Barnhart.
“We called so many sliders, but if he knows this is my best pitch and we stick to it, we’ll live and die by it,” said Garrett. “It’s a feeling of relief because he knows me like the back of his hand.”
When Stephenson was on the grid he looked at the portion of a top 100 prospect.
In addition to what Stephenson brings to the table as a power hitter, he was behind the record on Jeff Hoffman’s Reds debut. Hoffman only allowed one run in five innings.
Stephenson also had one of the most efficient starts in Luis Castillo’s career. Castillo threw seven goalless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Whenever I thought of a place, I asked for it,” said Castillo through team interpreter Jorge Merlos. “It was a good mix of pitches that we were thinking about at the same time. Whenever he asked me something, I agreed with him. It was a really good combination that we had with Tyler Stephenson today. “
A move between left-handed Barnhart and right-handed Stephenson would be a way to split the game, but the Reds will face significantly more right-handed starters than left-handed starters.
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The Reds haven’t seen a left-handed starter this season. In 2020, Cincinnati encountered 47 right-handed starting mugs and only 13 left-handed starting mugs.
While the catch rotation is more complicated than the opposing starting pitcher, Bell said he was confident Stephenson would have chances.
“We need these two guys, it’ll work,” said Bell. “The advantage is that they both play well, one of them hits left-handed and one of them right-handed. (Barnhart) now does a great job against left-handers too. Both understand the situation and we will both be able to keep them sharp. “