Robert Stephenson entered the spring in competition for the 5th spot in the rotation. It appears that there may be more than just that spot available. If you’ve been living under a rock, you may have missed that Anthony DeSclafani strained his oblique in his last start. Brandon Finnegan left his last start with something going on in his forearm. He claims he’s good to go, but also notes that it’s not his decision as to whether he’ll miss any time before taking the mound again.

Sal Romano has pitched very well this spring, continuing with how he ended the 2017 season. The general belief is that he, short of something crazy happening in the next two weeks, should have a spot in the rotation locked down. For Robert Stephenson, and the others competing for the potentially open spot(s) in the rotation, the time is now to perform your best and make your claim for the spot.

When the Cincinnati Reds take the field later this afternoon against the Arizona Diamondbacks it will be Robert Stephenson getting the start. His first start of the spring came at the end of February. In a strange decision, he was put into a game without having faced live hitters all spring after he got a late start due to a slight neck issue popped up. Things didn’t go well that day. The next time out also didn’t go as planned for the 25-year-old right hander, as he walked three batters in 1.1 innings.

On March 8th, in his last appearance, Robert Stephenson looked like a different guy than the previous two outings. He threw 3.0 shutout innings and struck out three batters. He didn’t walk anyone and allowed just one hit. Stephenson was also throwing the baseball hard. Really hard. He averaged 96.5 MPH on the fastball and topped out at 98.6 MPH. And the pitch was one that he threw for strikes 70% of the time.

If Robert Stephenson can pitch like he did the last time out, and throw 4-5 innings like that, it could help get closer to locking in a spot in the rotation. But, if he throws more like he did the first two times out and struggles to throw strikes, it could mean he’s pushed towards the back of the line. After tomorrow it would seem there are only two more chances to start remaining for him in the spring. That leaves the start later today as a very big opportunity, but also one that could make-or-break the spring for the young righty.