Back in February, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India took live batting practice off of one of the Reds’ pitching prospects. India was so impressed that he went up to that pitcher when it was over and introduced himself.
The pitcher was Connor Phillips, who delivered one of the biggest starts of the Reds’ season as Cincinnati beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-3, on Monday at Great American Ball Park. As Phillips allowed two runs in seven innings, he became just the 11th Reds pitcher this year to go that deep into a single start.
“You can see he has the stuff, and you can also see that he has a real competitive edge about him,” Reds manager David Bell said. “There’s just a challenge that comes really at every point of your career, but definitely early on. You really don’t know if you’re good enough. You have to find a way to just trust it. I thought he did that tonight.”
The Reds acquired Phillips as the player to be named later when they dealt Eugenio Suárez and Jesse Winker to the Seattle Mariners in 2022. Phillips had velocity and a big slider, but he was still figuring out how to harness his talent into consistent results on the mound.
Last season, Phillips posted a 5.12 ERA in 12 starts in Double-A. His potential led to his invitation to big league spring training, and Phillips immediately showed the Reds why he could be a big part of their long-term rotation.
Phillips, 22 years old, only joined the Reds’ rotation on Sept. 5 because Graham Ashcraft got hurt. Phillips’ command led to up-and-down results this season in Triple-A, but he also has pure stuff that’s better than every Reds pitcher except for Hunter Greene and Alexis Díaz.
Even in February, Phillips showed he had a big league-ready fastball and slider. In the minor leagues this year, he statistically was one of the best strikeout throwers in the minors. He just had to control his pitches a bit better to make the leap.
On Monday, everything was working for Phillips. He spotted 97 mph fastballs on the edge of the zone for strike three. To cap off the seventh inning, Phillips got a strikeout looking followed by a strikeout swinging with his slider. He mixed in his curveball. Most importantly, Phillips stayed aggressive and efficient as he struck out seven batters while only allowing three hits.
All of Phillips’ talent was on display.
“I’ve put some pretty good starts together (this year) and also had a pretty bad stretch,” Phillips said. “It just comes down to getting ahead and throwing strike one. My stuff is going to be there. Once we get ahead, I can put guys away.”
When Phillips made his first two starts in MLB in early September, he didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in either game and carried a 8.31 ERA. Bell told him that he needed to trust his ability without trying to be too perfect. Phillips’ pitches have so much life on them that they don’t even need to be at their absolute best for him to get good results.
Bell’s confidence in Phillips paid off in the seventh inning. After Phillips allowed a homer to Twins first baseman Alex Kirilloff, Bell stuck with Phillips even though the Twins had another left-handed hitter stepping up to the plate. Phillips got two strikeouts to end the inning.
For stretches against the Twins, Phillips’ performance looked easy. He gave the Reds their best start of September and kept them on track in the playoff race with fewer than two weeks left in the season.
“Everyone that’s come up has played a brand of baseball that aligns with the Major League game,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. “It’s been very impressive. Connor was another example of one of our young prospect-type of players who has performed well and given us an important performance in a meaningful game.”
Three takeaways from Reds vs. Twins
1. Reds right fielder Will Benson got a home run robbed by Twins center fielder Michael A. Taylor early in Monday’s game. Then in the fourth inning, Benson left no doubt with a deep drive to center field. Benson’s two run homer put the Reds up by three runs.
2. Reds third baseman Noelvi Marte got the Reds an early lead with an RBI single in the second inning. Marte is hitting over .400 across his last 15 games. Bell has a deep roster of position players, and Marte is making a strong case for more consistent at-bats and a bigger role in the lineup.
3. Votto has had more limited opportunities against left-handed pitching down the stretch this season, but he took advantage of a big chance in that type of matchup in the seventh inning. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, he faced Twins left-handed reliever Dallas Keuchel. Votto laced a single to right field that put the Reds up by five runs.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds beat Minnesota Twins to stay in MLB playoff race