CINCINNATI — Robert Stephenson said he feels less pressure in the major leagues than he did in the minors.
Sure looks that way.
Stephenson struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings, but he also yielded two homers and the Cincinnati Reds lost 5-0 to Bartolo Colon and the New York Mets on Monday.
Stephenson, one of Cincinnati’s top prospects, allowed two runs and six hits, falling short in his bid to become the first Reds pitcher since Wayne Simpson in 1970 to win each of his first three major league starts.
“It’s just confidence,” Stephenson said of his early success in the majors. “There’s less pressure. I’m not trying to get back to this level. I’m already here. Now I’m just trying to have fun.”
The 23-year-old Stephenson (2-1), a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, went 8-9 with a 4.41 ERA with Triple-A Louisville this season. But he beat Philadelphia and Colorado in a pair of spot starts in April and picked up Monday right where he left off, delighting manager Bryan Price.
“He commanded the bottom of the zone with his fastball and changeup and threw a handful of breaking balls when he was behind in the count, which you have to do,” Price said. “He did a nice job.”
Colon pitched six innings of five-hit ball as the Mets won for the sixth time in eight games. Matt Reynolds and Kelly Johnson homered in New York’s 12th straight victory against Cincinnati.
Colon (13-7) improved to 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his last seven starts. The Reds put a runner on third with nobody out on two occasions, and Colon wiggled out of the jam each time.
New York had a short turnaround after a 5-1 victory over Washington on Sunday night, but the 43-year-old Colon traveled to Cincinnati ahead of the team and it looks as if the rest paid off. He struck out two and walked one.
Jay Bruce went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game in Cincinnati since the Reds traded him to the Mets on Aug. 1.
“It was a bit odd, coming over to the visiting side for the first time,” Bruce said. “Definitely odd being on the other side, but once the first pitch is thrown, it’s just baseball.”
Reynolds, recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas before the game, hit his third homer of the season with one out in the third inning. He also had an RBI single in New York’s three-run seventh and finished with three hits.
Johnson led off the fifth with his 10th homer.
The Mets have hit 18 home runs in their last 11 games at Great American Ball Park and 185 overall this season for their best total since the 2006 team set the franchise record with 200.
The Reds honored Bruce and his wife, Hannah, in a pregame ceremony for his contributions to the team on the field and the couple’s work in the community during his nearly nine seasons with Cincinnati.
New York’s Wilmer Flores was thrown out by left fielder Adam Duvall trying to stretch hits in each of his first two at bats, at second in the first inning and at third in the fourth. Duvall is the first Cincinnati outfielder with two assists in one game since Bruce on Aug. 5, 2014, at Cleveland, according to the Reds.
After tying their season high by hitting into four double plays in a 5-2 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, the Reds hit into double plays in each of the first two innings on Monday against the Mets.
Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips returned to the starting lineup after being scratched each of the previous two days with a sore left foot.
Mets RHP Rafael Montero (0-0) and Reds LHP Brandon Finnegan (8-10) are scheduled to start on Tuesday. Finnegan has limited opposing batters to a .132 average (9 for 68) over his last three starts.