Jackson Stephens’ major league debut wasn’t brilliant, but it was memorable. And it brought back memories for me and other Reds fans.
Jackson got the win against the Cubs, thanks to his two-run single, a presence on the mound, eight strikeouts and some great pitching from the bullpen. The fact that it came against Chicago was another guilty pleasure. Seems like they– and their fans– are finding out it’s sort of, kind of, hard to repeat. Reds fans know that already as most other baseball fans do. But Cubs fans are rookies to that process so we need to cut them some slack.
But back to Jackson Stephens. His debut was a winning one. He was also the first Reds pitcher to knock in a pair of runs in his first start since Paul Moskau did that in 1977.
Moskau’s debut came on June 21, 1977 for the two-time defending World Champion Big Red Machine. They were struggling and would still be at the .500 mark (49-49) on July 28. For that Cincinnati team, starting pitching was killing them — sound familiar?
The Reds had Tom Seaver as their bonafide ace. They had a solid #2 starter in Fred Norman. But Jack Billingham was fading as a pitcher, Gary Nolan was released, Pat Zachry was dealt in the Seaver trade and newly acquired Woody Fryman was a colossal bust. Desperate for starters, the Reds promoted Moskau and newly acquired Doug Capilla to round out the rotation.
Paul Moskau was 23 years old (same age as Stephens) when he took the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium on June 21, 1977. He didn’t get the win but homered, singled and drove in two runs against Phillies hurler Randy Lerch. The Reds led 7-4 going into the bottom of the 5th and Moskau got two outs before getting into a jam. Sparky Anderson brought in Pedro Borbon, who pitched the remainder of the game, which the Reds won 10-5. Borbon got the win but Paul Moskau made his debut and smacked a home run.
Moskau finished that ’77 season with a record of 6-6 and a 4.00 ERA in 108 innings pitched. The 6’2” righthander also tossed a pair of shutouts. Unfortunately, those stats in ’77 became the norm for Moskau’s career. His best year was 1980 when he posted a 9-7 record in 152 innings of work and had an ERA of 4.01.
Paul Moskau never improved as a pitcher at the big league level. After five years in Cincinnati, Moskau was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Wayne Krenchicki, a good-field, no-hit third baseman. The Orioles later waived Moskau and he had one-year stints at Pittsburgh and Chicago before he retired in 1983. His career record was 32-27 with an ERA of 4.22.
Moskau later became a General Manager for the minor league team in Tucson, made an appearance on Highway to Heaven with Michael Landon and was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in Tucson.
Here’s hoping Jackson Stephens continues to have success. The Reds have started so many rookie pitchers in this “rebuild” I’ve lost count. I’ve only seen Jackson mentioned in the Reds Top Thirty Prospects on one list (at #27) and maybe his “six hopper up the middle” (according to Cubs hurler Eddie Butler) wasn’t a hard hit drive but it knocked in a pair of runs anyway.
It was a big day for Stephens. I have to admit I was glad the Reds recalled him instead of Robert Stephenson or Cody Reed. I’m neither an expert or a stat geek but those guys need to buckle up and listen to their coaches at Louisville. If not, the Johnny Cueto trade with Kansas City, that looked so promising, will be a gigantic bust.
And I loved Stephens’ quote to Zack Buchanan in The Enquirer about his velocity that day: “I ain’t ever thrown 97,” said the Reds righthander.
Such eloquence is needed in baseball. The Reds optioned Stephens back to Louisville on Sunday but I’d imagine a lot of Cincinnati fans will look forward to the next time Action Jackson comes to The Rhineland.