By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Caleb Reed might enter in the fifth inning, seventh inning, ninth inning – it doesn’t really matter to him. His approach remains exactly the same.
“When I come in, I’m supposed to close out the game, I don’t care what inning it is,” Reed said. “I just figured that’s my role on this team, and that’s just my mentality every time I come in.”
That mentality has worked very well for the Mississippi State right-hander. Entering this weekend’s series against No. 2 South Carolina, Reed has six saves and holds a 0.88 ERA – he’s allowed three earned runs in 302⁄3 innings, striking out 36 against nine walks.
He’s tossed 161⁄3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
This from a kid who John Cohen once thought wouldn’t be able to get SEC hitters out.
Reed was a Ron Polk recruit inherited by Cohen in 2009. Cohen was not overly impressed by the pitcher with what he described as a “roly-poly body.”
“You’re not closed-minded,” Cohen said, “but you’re going, ‘How is 5-(foot)-9, 5-10 and 84, 86 (mph) with a loopy curveball, and some variance of a sloppy changeup, how is this guy going to get anybody out?’”
Reed had trouble finding the strike zone that first season, going 2-1 with a 9.17 ERA. Last year wasn’t a whole lot better statistically: 1-7, 6.99 ERA.
But Cohen noticed a change in Reed last season. He’d worked on his body and his mechanics, lowering his arm slot and occasionally dropping to a sidearm delivery to make his slider even more effective.
“The hitters, I want them to know and want to them to realize that I do have that, so it’s always on their mind, that way they’re always guessing,” Reed said.
It’s his ability to keep hitters off balance that makes Reed effective in both short and long relief. Seven of his 16 appearances have lasted two or more innings, including two outings of five or more innings.
“He’s the poster boy for continuous improvement all the time. … His development over the last three years might be as good as any pitcher I’ve ever had the privilege to coach,” said Cohen.
Reed brings even more to the table than his mound prowess. Cohen holds him up to the other Bulldog pitchers as a shining example of how to approach the job.
Prior to Tuesday’s game against Ole Miss, Cohen pulled aside Reed and sophomore reliever Luis Pollorena and reminded the other pitchers to emulate them.
“It’s the body language on the bench of, hey, follow me, I’m going to do it the right way, and I’m going to get this done,” Cohen said. “I can’t express enough how important it is to have somebody like that on your bench.”
Reed and his fellow hurlers will need to be in top form this weekend for MSU (23-14, 6-9 SEC). South Carolina (29-7, 12-3) is the defending NCAA champion and has the third-highest RPI in the country, according to BoydsWorld.com.
While MSU’s pitching staff is the strongest it’s been in years, South Carolina enters with a 2.55 team ERA, second in the SEC. MSU is seventh at 3.90.
Of greater concern to Cohen is State’s hitting. The Bulldogs are batting .265 in league play and have had trouble with runners in scoring position.
MSU has lost seven of its last nine SEC games, and five of those losses have come by three runs or less. But Cohen sees signs of progress.
“Week in and week out, I think our kids are starting to realize that we’re just one pitch away, we’re just very, very close to being able to compete with anybody,” Cohen said. “And if you can do that, you have a chance to do some special things in the postseason.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.