Cryer leads Diamond Rebs

It has been a long time coming, but Justin Cryer is finally healthy and carrying expectations into fall camp.

Cryer, who underwent Tommy John surgery in late 2005, is a fourth-year sophomore that is expected to produce valuable innings out of the Rebel bullpen. The Leesville, La., native dazzled this past summer with the Thomasville (N.C.) HiToms and has finally gained confidence and comfort following the surgery rehab.

I feel good and obviously the summer helped me out a lot as far as getting back into a rhythm," Cryer said. "I am so much more comfortable and confident on the mound. We have been talking about throwing strikes and hitting the glove. Our hitters haven't seen a lot of live pitching yet, so with both sides, it is all about feeling confident. There is a lot of competition. We need to strut our stuff and throw strikes."

Cryer used the time in North Carolina to develop a daily routine and prepare himself to pitch everyday if needed. Something important for a pitcher that is still inside 100 innings since the reconstructive elbow operation.

"I feel like I am 100 percent with everything. Velocity and locating, and now it is about getting back in sync with everything."

The Rebels dress in blue or white depending on practice, but two members of the team stand out with red jerseys. Cryer is one with shortstop Evan Button donning the other top.

"The red jerseys are the two captains or leaders," Cryer said. "There is one for the pitchers and another for the position players. It goes to the guys that display captain-like abilities. It is all about leading by example and getting everyone prepared for practice, speaking up when needed and everything."

High praise since Cryer only threw 27.2 innings last season, eighth on the team and seventh among the returnees. The game experience may be limited, but you won't find another player as team-oriented as Cryer. He has been around the program, and he cherishes the chance to lead.

"I love it (wearing red). I want to come out and give everything I have to the program. I am proving to the players that I'm here for them and them for me. We are all in this together."

The honor bestowed by the coaches also motivates Cryer.

"It isn't pressure, but it keeps me in the mindset that I'm That Guy right now. It's not a set thing. It could change. If Bukvich or someone shows a great deal of leadership that day or week, then they will switch it up. It makes me work just a little bit harder because you don't want to lose the red jersey."

Cryer is also impressed by his new teammates early on. With 16 incoming players, the makeup of the team is different than 2007. Seven starters return, but competition is everywhere.

"Mound, hitting, so far everyone looks good," the right-hander said. "I have been here four years, and this is the smoothest and most in control first couple days of practice. Everybody is excited and energized to be here.

"I think the chemistry is a lot better this year, especially early. We are all getting along and working together. That is always a plus. We are working on being more of a blue-collar team this time. It is all about hard work and doing the little stuff that really adds up. We have to work our butts off everyday."

But work isn't a big deal to Cryer. He has overcome a lot for this chance – the chance to lead.

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