The Cincinnati Reds are committed to keeping catcher Tyler Stephenson behind the plate

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PITTSBURGH –– When Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson was 14, the head coach of his high school baseball team asked him to start calling games behind the plate for the pitchers at Kennesaw Mountain High School.

Most catchers don’t start calling games until they become a professional. But as a freshman in high school, Stephenson showed the baseball IQ and the motivation to handle all of the responsibilities that come with catching.

Throughout his professional career, Stephenson has been motivated to stay at catcher. He has exceeded the expectations of the coaching staff with how much he improved defensively, and Stephenson has played at an All-Star level in 2022.

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Reds manager David Bell and Stephenson said there’s no consideration about moving Stephenson away from the catcher position, even though Stephenson has had three concussions during his career.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact anything,” Stephenson said. “It’s part of it. I’m not worried about it.”

May 14, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) is assisted by home plate umpire Lance Barrett after being hit in the jaw by a foul ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 14, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) is assisted by home plate umpire Lance Barrett after being hit in the jaw by a foul ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In April, following a collision at the plate with San Diego Padres first baseman Luke Voit, Stephenson got a concussion and missed two weeks. During the comeback process, he dealt with some dizziness and nausea as he ramped up baseball activities in anticipation of his return.

Apr 19, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; A Cincinnati Reds trainer checks on catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) after a collision at home plate with San Diego Padres designated hitter Luke Voit (not pictured) during the first inning at Petco Park.
Apr 19, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; A Cincinnati Reds trainer checks on catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) after a collision at home plate with San Diego Padres designated hitter Luke Voit (not pictured) during the first inning at Petco Park.

During the process, Stephenson’s drive to keep catching didn't change.

Then in Saturday night’s loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stephenson took a foul ball off of his face mask, left the game and entered concussion protocol. After the foul ball hit his mask, Stephenson sat on the ground, winced and took a few deep breaths.

May 14, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell (left) and a Reds trainer check on catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) after Stephenson was hit in the jaw by a foul ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Stephenson would leave the game. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 14, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell (left) and a Reds trainer check on catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) after Stephenson was hit in the jaw by a foul ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Stephenson would leave the game. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

He left the game in a scary moment for the Reds, but on Sunday, Stephenson was fully cleared.

“That (was) the first test, obviously, since I came back (from the concussion against the Padres),” Stephenson said. “It was a good one, to say the least. It was positive, once I got into the clubhouse to kind of wind it down, especially with how I feel this morning. All positive news and stuff, we’re good.”

After the foul tip on Saturday, Stephenson had a conversation with Reds assistant athletic trainer Tomás Vera. He told Stephenson that the rest of the season will be really important because after you’ve had a concussion, the following six months are a time when you have to be "careful."

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, left, tags out San Diego Padres' Luke Voit, trying to score from first off a double by Jurickson Profar during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in San Diego.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, left, tags out San Diego Padres' Luke Voit, trying to score from first off a double by Jurickson Profar during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in San Diego.

As a result, the Reds are looking into different types of padding they can add to Stephenson’s helmet. Stephenson said he has some new styles of masks coming from Evoshield that he can try, and he plans to visit Evoshield’s headquarters when the Reds play in Chicago.

“They’re open to communication and conversations because obviously health is of the No. 1 importance,” Stephenson said. “We’re having the conversations. We’ll come together and figure out something.”

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Stephenson has a .324 batting average in 2022, and Bell has been keeping him in the lineup as often as possible because of how well he was hitting. Bell said the Reds will continue to use him at designated hitter on his off days because Stephenson is one of the best bats in the Reds’ lineup. But Bell stressed that he isn't considering moving Stephenson to first base.

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) gets set in the on-deck circle in the second inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) gets set in the on-deck circle in the second inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

Stephenson’s defense behind the plate is arguably just as valuable as his ability as a hitter. While Stephenson has the potential to become one of the best hitting catchers in MLB, he’d be closer to the middle of the pack at first base or as a designated hitter.

During the offseason, Stephenson had a private catching coach move to Columbia, South Carolina, to work with him during the lockout. Stephenson changed his catching stance that he uses with runners on base because he struggled throwing out baserunners last season.

This year, Stephenson has already thrown out six runners attempting to steal a base, which is just two fewer than he had across the entire 2021 season. Stephenson is also developing a new strategy to move his mitt and frame pitches for strikes, and has grown just as much in that area.

After all of the progress he has made, Stephenson isn't changing positions.

“We’ll try everything we can to prevent something from happening later on, especially a foul tip or whatever it is,” Stephenson said.

FARMER OUT: Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer didn’t start on Saturday or Sunday due to “general soreness.” Matt Reynolds started both games at shortstop in his place.

Farmer had one day off all season before this stretch, which was the fewest on the team.

“It works out because we have the off day (Monday),” Bell said. “Get him three days to get treatment, get taken care of.”

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer (17) fields a groundball in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Monday, May 9, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer (17) fields a groundball in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Monday, May 9, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

REHAB UPDATES: Bell said center fielder Nick Senzel is targeting starting his rehab assignment on Wednesday. Joey Votto played in his first rehab game on Saturday night, and he was 1-for-1 with two walks, and Votto was back in the Bats lineup on Sunday.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) walks up the batterÕs box after Cincinnati Reds left fielder Tommy Pham (28), background, struck out during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Wednesday, April 27, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) walks up the batterÕs box after Cincinnati Reds left fielder Tommy Pham (28), background, struck out during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Wednesday, April 27, 2022, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson leaves game versus Pirates