Stephenson is in his second season in Colorado, after being acquired from the Reds back in November 2020. After being a top prospect during his time in the Cincinnati farm system, Stephenson never caught on as a starting pitcher but showed promise as a reliever in 2019. He built on that production in 2021, when he posted a 3.13 ERA, 26.4% strikeout rate, and 9.1% walk rate over 46 innings out of Colorado’s bullpen.
The 2022 season has been a different story, as Stephenson has struggled to a 6.04 ERA over 44 2/3 frames. While his 97mph average fastball velocity still puts him among the game’s hardest throwers, opposing batters have been crushing Stephenson’s four-seamer to the tune of a .379 batting average. With only average secondary pitches and a lot of hard contact being allowed, Stephenson’s production has fallen off, especially in the last few weeks. The righty has allowed at least one earned run in seven of his last nine appearances, with an ugly 10.24 ERA over his last 9 2/3 innings.
Since Stephenson is out of minor league options, the Rockies had no choice but designate him for assignment in order to move him down to Triple-A. Since Colorado already had an open 40-man roster spot to accommodate Kuhl’s return, the club didn’t strictly have to DFA Stephenson, so it is possible the Rox might be parting ways with him altogether. A waiver claim from a rival team is a distinct possibility, as Stephenson’s velocity and fastball spin rate could interest other clubs.
For Kuhl, he hasn’t pitched since August 3 due to a hip strain. The right-hander pitched well over the first three months of the season, but had a 10.17 ERA in the 25 2/3 innings and six starts prior to his IL placement.