Reyes provides calming influence
Deceptive Rays closer has allowed club peace of mind
OAKLAND -- Al Reyes is elevator music.
The solid gold kind that makes white knuckles and held breaths disappear. Exhaling is even possible when the Devil Rays' closer enters the game. In the midst of chaos, Reyes is calm.
"He walks out there and you can see that he's under control, like, 'I got it,'" Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Added Rays right-hander Shawn Camp: "He's just real calm and collected."
Reyes looks like one of the best bargains in baseball. The Rays signed Reyes on March 19, 2006 while the veteran right-hander was recuperating from Tommy John elbow ligament-replacement surgery. He missed most of the 2006 season and reported to camp in the spring as a non-roster invitee. Not only did he make the team, he assumed the closer role and has thrived in the position.
"Without him, as a manager, it would be a much more difficult moment to be sitting here," Maddon said. "We're playing eight innings and if you've got it after that, 'Here you go, let's give it to Al and see how it shakes out.' But you feel pretty good it's going to shake out pretty nicely."
Every time Reyes goes to the mound a pitching clinic takes place.
"I think a lot of our young guys in the bullpen, who throw relatively hard, they're seeing a guy throwing 89, 90 to 91, making good hitters have bad swings against him," Maddon said. "Some of the guys have already mentioned that to me. They're finding out the quality of location and the commitment to a pitch. That's what Al's all about. I mean he's got a great changeup, yes. But he pitches primarily with his fastball and he throws it to both sides, up and down, and in the strike zone. And he knows what he's doing with each pitch."
Camp said two things about Reyes stand out in his mind.
"The deception he has and the fact that the only time he really elevates is on purpose," Camp said. "Everything he throws is at the knees or below. You go back and look at the pitches he's thrown this year. There aren't a lot of pitches he's thrown that have been above the knees. Plus, he's got a good changeup, and he's a veteran. He works a good tempo, throws a lot of strikes, keeps the ball down."
Ruddy Lugo smiled when asked about learning from Reyes.
"Yeah man. He throws 88 to 91 and he don't elevate a ball unless he wants to," Lugo said. "He keeps everything low. I mean we're always talking about it."
Of course, not elevating the baseball is easier said than done according to Lugo.
"Trust me, I know," Lugo said. "When you get in a jam, you try to rush or overthrow. But Al doesn't do that. I don't know what he's thinking. But usually when we get in trouble, we try harder, we throw harder, our mechanics are wrong. Not Al."
Reyes entered the 2007 season with six saves in 407 Major League games -- a number he's already exceeded this season. While he hasn't had a great deal of opportunity to close during his career, he likes pitching at the end of the game.
"The only difference is the fact I am pitching late in the game," Reyes said. "But pitching wise, I'm pretty much facing the same hitters, and all of that. It's still pitching one inning. Have to get three outs. But I like it. I've always liked pressure. I like to pitch with pressure."
Last Monday Reyes took over to pitch the ninth inning against the Yankees with the Rays leading, 10-6. He surrendered a two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez -- which represented the first two runs scored against him this season -- then sort of shrugged his shoulders and got back to work. He did not allow any more runs and the Rays won the game, 10-8.
"I figured he hit a two-run homer, but we were still up two runs," Reyes said. "In some situations a home run is almost a rally killer. You're still winning by two and you say I'm going to get the next guys out. If [Rodriguez] had hit a double, then you have two guys on and you have to be more careful."
Time has helped Reyes achieve his perspective. In the past, a two-run homer to Rodriguez might have done him in.
"Some of the teams I've been on, you have to do good all the time," Reyes said. "If you don't, you're out. So that puts a lot negative stuff on you, like, are they going to come down on me? You start putting a lot of stuff in your mind."
Reyes' approach is simple.
"I go out and pitch like I pitch every time," Reyes said. "If I pitch bad one day, I forget about that. Just get back tomorrow and be ready to pitch. You can't bring yesterday's game to the ballpark. Every day is a new day."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.