But little over a week into team practices Mississippi State moundsmen are looking like much more than a strong point: they are strong, period. Take the obvious expert opinion of Reed, a senior and preseason All-American pick. "This is the first year where I feel we have a set weekend rotation, that won't change or not know who is going to start on Sunday," he said.
"I think everybody will know their role. And when you know what you are going to do I think that helps everybody's situation and feel confident."
Reed's role is pretty well-defined of course. Since a mid-2010 stretch as a starter, the Cleveland native has been the bullpen bulwark. He not only had a staff-most 29 stints last season but pitched 64 innings in the process, second-most on the squad and high for any sort of reliever. That he battled through for a team-best 1.55 ERA and dozen saves reflects Reed's durability of arm and attitude alike.
Not to mention a reminder that, what with a couple months struggling to figure out a '11 rotation and other roles, Reed was the quick and easy and often call from his coaches. Now? Reed really is enjoying how several teammates are tossing in late relief, set-up, and close situations.
"I mean, don't get me wrong, I still want to throw as much as I possibly can, I love throwing every day that I can!" Reed said. "If the team needs me to throw it three days a weekend I'll be ready."
So, who are the guys Reed figures to share the load with most often this season? It's an interesting mix of obvious returning veterans and a couple who aren't as seasoned or are even entirely new. The most impressive, at least to observers, so far has been sophomore Taylor Stark who already has other duties as one of the outfield starting candidates. Stark was bringing the heat in last week's scrimmage, showing the benefits of a season in the system and a year's maturing.
Stark is a righthander like Reed, too. The rest sling from the other side. "You've got Luis Pollorena, you've got Jacob Lindgren who has real stuff, you've got C.T. Bradford at the back end as always," Reed said. Oh, and another. "Tim Statz is a guy who is going to come out of the shadows this year I really believe." And do it with an impressive new drop-down delivery developed last fall.
With all those arms to try out in game-type settings no wonder Reed spends so much sideline time this preseason. Oh, he isn't being bored in the dugout. The coaching staff may have him signaling in the pitches to the pitchers for situations while results are recorded. In fact, this older Dog is being called on to become something of a ‘coach' himself these days.
"It is a little different being the old guy. We've got only three seniors, and Nick Routt has been here for four years so he's in that same realm as us. But there are a lot of young guys out there we have, and coaches always like us being able to tell them what we think is going on and trying to coach (the young players) up."
Reed has found he kind of likes this responsibility, too. Especially working with his immediate peers, the bullpen Bulldogs.
"Oh, for sure. They'll ask how do you get loose in the pen, how long does it take, arm care, and all that kind of stuff. We're lucky, we haven't had any arm problems and that is one thing I take pride in, is doing a lot of arm care with them." No, Reed is not adding ‘trainer' to the job description. Though goodness knows he ought to have a better idea than most about the wear-and-tear of a baseball season. For that matter a full baseball calendar given how the game is a year-round thing even for pitchers.
After the 29-appearance spring, Coach Butch Thompson shut Reed down for half of a summer before letting him go throw against top-notch competition in Cape Cod. Then the old hand worked 14 fall scrimmage innings more to stay sharp than actually refine any stuff.
It seems to have worked out well. Reed reported for preseason refreshed and carrying a solid 195 pounds that actually looks like 200-plus. He credits some of the reshaping to the team's strength program that has put the muscle where a late reliever needs it most.
"I'm as healthy as I've ever been. I had a good break when I got back from the summer, I took the Christmas off and started my throwing program after that. So I've been doing good." Still Mississippi State isn't pushing such a proven performer too much this February, as Thompson scripts the scrimmage innings carefully.
"Last week I only threw on Friday. I'll throw again this Friday but this weekend I think they're going to let me throw Sunday, to give my arm the opportunity to bounce back within a couple of days," said Reed.
His earlier comment about an established rotation might be jumping the gun a bit as Thompson and Coach John Cohen are not chiseling such stuff in stone just yet. They will use early-schedule weekends to figure who sets up best for SEC season as always. But, Reed's comment is correct in an absolutely important sense. Unlike the past few seasons where State spent weeks, even months finding out who could do the job, or if those who could were healthy enough for it, 2011 is a far better situation. Excellent starting choices are both available and ready.
And as for nothing changing, Reed meant it in the best way. "We'll have people sitting there that very well could be pitching in that spot, but we actually have somebody who is a little bit better out there. And that is a good feeling to have, when you have so much depth where if somebody does get in trouble else to run right out there behind him that is just as good." Meaning such openers as Routt, Chris Stratton, Evan Mitchell, Ben Bracewell, and others are winners just by beating out teammates for starts.
Then there's all the aforementioned late relievers, reinforced by a strong corps of middle-men ready for their calls. Reed has watched this roster develop over four years and appreciates the progress. "We have a lot of pitching depth. We had a lot of good arms come in this freshman class we had, and we have a lot of guys last year that have grown up and are sophomores now and have good arms."
Good arms need a good mitt to catch their stuff. This is the greenest portion of State's lineup with both '11 backstops graduated. Reed will miss throwing to Wes Thigpen and Cody Freeman…but also doesn't foresee State catching missing a step.
"I'll tell you, all three of those catchers are looking good back there. They're really good." They being soph Hunter Renfroe, who is not pitching much now in spring so as to speed up his development as a catcher; and transfer juniors Mitch Slauter and Nick Ammirati. The latter was a late sign last summer but has impressed everyone with the mitt-work. Especially Reed.
"I'm not scared to throw that slider in the dirt at all, I know Nick's going to get it. Mitch and Hunter have been doing a great job running the games for us back there. It's just been great overall."
And so has the preseason weather so far. The forecast takes a turn for the worse though, with rain expected tomorrow as well as Saturday. Cohen hopes to get in the scheduled Friday scrimmage but if Dudy Noble Field gets too wet will move indoors for a practice and re-set scrimmages for Saturday around the 3:00 basketball game.
Not that weather will worry Reed much. He's a reliever, comfortable waiting and watching and warming anyway. He's just a little more comfortable than usual this preseason as he takes his limited scrimmage turns. Yeah, he said, it's a change of pace after working and even over-working last season.
"But we've got some good arms this year and it's great to see."