Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Outfielder's Offense Back on Track; Off-Week Should Ease Arm Soreness

We can ask Reid Humphreys a lot of questions about this team, this season, his play and his roles. Just don’t ask him to recite the latest conference standings. “You know, I don’t even know where we are in the SEC,” he admits. “But I know as long as we keep winning series everything will work out.”

Think a moment, and this is an excellent attitude on Mississippi State’s remaining schedule. Let media and fans follow the day-to-day, even inning-by-inning standings. The Diamond Dogs will go about their business.

Humphreys certainly is taking this approach to his own 2016 situation. An increasingly demanding one, but also an expanded situation this junior enjoys.

“It’s tough sometimes. But I can’t look at it as one or the other, I want to do both well and I’m still working on that. It’s an every-day thing.”

The one-or-other can be a great big both for this Bulldog outfielder, as he has risen to the top of Mississippi State’s late-inning relief roster. At least, when the arm is able. A sore muscle kept Humphreys from closing out anything at Alabama, though he did take some warm-up tosses at the end of the game-three win to check.

“I wasn’t feeling as good as I wanted to. I was going to try. But these guys picked me up.”

Now, when he’s feeling good? Get the guns out and watch Humphreys bring late-game heat. Like in the previous weekend when Humphreys slammed the door twice at Louisiana State for his fourth and fifth official saves of the season.

That may be the point Humphreys recognized he is truly back as a moundsman.

“If you’d told me I would be pitching in Alex Box stadium on a Friday night a year-and-a-half ago I would have probably laughed. It’s a dream come true and I’m blessed.”

Batters aren’t laughing. Nor do opposing coaches scouting bullpen Bulldogs pay much attention to Humphreys’ 0-1 record and 5.94 era. Delete that one really rotten Sunday when Texas A&M hit him for five earned runs, comparable to how the Aggies pounded all State pitchers, and the average is 3.68.

The better rate to watch is Humphreys’ 19 strikeouts in 16.2 innings with just five walks. And if he is walking anyone it’s not because Humphreys is nibbling around the zone. He is the classic attack-closer with the ideal mindset for ninth innings.

“It’s big to be able to get those last three outs and come away with a win.”

To be clear, Reid Humphreys was already doing his share to win Bulldog games in his full-time job. He’s started 34 games in leftfield as well as once in right. Humphreys has even pulled on the infield glove to start at his old third base job four times including opening day.

Still left is the primary position. Despite a very occasional miss-read reminiscent of early-career struggles there Humphreys has been a fine outfielder and at times made remarkable running plays showing real range. Oh, and the arm, obviously. Runners have to think twice and maybe thrice before trying to stretch their luck on the paths.

Offense? Oh, yeah. After batting .241 and .247 his first two Mississippi State seasons, Humphreys is hacking at a .336 overall rate which is second-best on the squad this week and in the SEC’s top-25 batters. He’s also fourth in conference doubles at 15, after just nine total two-baggers from 2014-15.

Thing is, Humphreys thought he was slumping a bit after tough series with A&M and LSU. He regained a groove last week though, 5-of-12 in four games and the clutch RBI-contact in a rubber-game.

“I haven’t been swinging as well as I wanted to. A few of them fell and helped us win.” His hitting also eased the sore feelings about not being able to throw relief, something Humphreys truly hoped he could do as a junior.

In fact, he was signed as an infielder/closer out of Northwest Rankin High. But this was also during the time Humphreys needed Tommy John surgery. Pitching was out for the senior season and two college campaigns as well.

“I always wanted to get back out there and try it. And different things fell into place and it worked out. Coach (Butch) Thompson was the first guy to show some interest in me pitching, to get me to throw some bullpens in the fall. It’s crazy how it worked out.”

Oh, no. Crazy is how Humphreys has suddenly expanded his arsenal. He applies a brand-new pitch, a cut-fastball borrowed outright from ace and hard-thrower Dakota Hudson.

“I’ve watched him throw it all year and thought it was a phenomenal pitch,” Humphreys said. “I just went up to him and asked him how are you gripping that or how are you throwing that? Obviously he showed me and I threw it before the first game (at LSU) Friday on flat ground and liked the way it felt and wanted to try it out. And it worked.”

Did it ever. Getting to a 2-2 count in the bottom of the eighth, bases full of Tigers and State trying to maintain a 12-8 lead, guess what Humphreys decided to debut? Something he’d only tossed on a real mound three times before, and that in a hasty warm-up.

“And it couldn’t have come out more perfect,” Humphreys said. He threw the cutter and cut down the #9 batter to strand everyone. Oh, and that was absolutely NOT called from the dugout by Coach Wes Johnson.

“Only Elih knew it was coming!” Humphreys said. Freshman catcher Marrero caught it just fine, too. More than the coach were surprised, as centerfielder Jake Mangum had no clue. “He comes in the game and threw a pitch, I looked over at Mike (Smith) and…what was that? He doesn’t throw that!”

Humphreys does now. He certainly wants to again this weekend if needed, and Coach John Cohen said Monday he hopes Humphreys is available against Missouri. A few days-off from competition won’t be stress-free since there’s this matter of spring semester exams. But unless Humphreys strains that arm filling out finals he ought be OK.

And, should the Bulldogs take care of business, they should stay right on their NCAA Regional hosting track. Just don’t ask Humphreys for specific standings or rankings or anything like that.

“We know it’s always going to come down to one game in the end. And we need to try to win every game until we get to that point.”

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