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Rockies’ Reynolds relishes relief role

APSU Sports: Men’s Baseball

Austin Peay State University GovernorsClarksville, TN – Many people forget about Matt Reynolds and the impact he had at Austin Peay.  Of course, he pitched in the long shadow cast by two of the greatest pitchers in Austin Peay history. But at 6-5, 240 pounds, Reynolds certainly now casts a shadow of his own.

The truth about Reynolds is he probably shouldn’t be where he is today. He probably shouldn’t be on a Major League roster, coming out of the bullpen for the Colorado Rockies. But there he is, night after night, putting in his work. In fact, he’s tied for 16th among MLB relievers with 41 appearances, which just happens to be tops for the Rockies.

Matt Reynolds. (Courtesy: Austin Peay Sports Information)
Matt Reynolds. (Courtesy: Austin Peay Sports Information)

Playing for the Rockies is even more appropriate for Reynolds considering his background in comparison to that of the franchise. When Colorado was awarded an expansion franchise to start the 1991 season, it was a godsend to fans in Denver. It took only two years for the Rockies to win the wild card and make a playoff appearance.

It wasn’t until 2007 the Rockies embraced the role as Major League Baseball’s dark horse, again winning the wild card along with their first seven playoff games, advancing to the franchise’s first-ever World Series.

Reynolds, meanwhile, who was a 20th-round pick by the Rockies in June 2007, had just completed an underdog battle of his own.

In 2006 for the Govs , he was a part-time No. 3 starter and periodic reliever, on a staff with that season’s OVC Pitcher of the Year Rowdy Hardy (currently with Double-A Mississippi Braves) and the 2007 season’s OVC Pitcher of the Year Shawn Kelley (currently with Seattle Mariners).

He would become a fixture in the 2007 rotation as the No. 2 starter, behind Kelley, labeled the staff ace. Kelley won 11 games that year while Reynolds won 10 games.

His impact for the 2007 Govs was never more evident than when the Govs clinched the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championship, May 18th, with a 2-0 win against Eastern Kentucky. Reynolds found himself locked in a pitching duel with EKU’s Christian Friedrich – who currently is starting pitcher for the Rockies Triple-A club in Colorado Springs, CO.

The two hurlers allowed only three baserunners combined in the first three innings as Reynolds and Friedrich were both throwing darts. In the fourth, an EKU hit and APSU error put two on with one out, putting Reynolds in a quick hole. But Reynolds induced a line-drive double play to get out of the jam with no damage done.

In the bottom of that inning Friedrich, now a good friend of Reynolds, found himself in similar hot water. He issued a two-out walk and made it worse by giving up a monster two-run home run to Jake Lane, which would be all the run support Reynolds needed.

Reynolds locked it up the rest of the way, retiring the final 11 batters he faced to wrap up the title. It was the first of two championships the big lefty would secure over the ensuing weeks.

What most saw as Reynolds playing in Shawn Kelley’s shadow, Reynolds had a different perspective. After all, his competitive drive landed him at Austin Peay in the first place.

“Shawn and I had a blast that year,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t just compete against other teams, we competed against each other. We made each other pitch better. It was always fun to look at a box score and say, ‘you walked two guys and I didn’t walk any,’ or ‘look how many hits you gave up.’ That rivalry helped us both improve.”

In high school, he was primarily a first baseman until his junior year. A growth spurt saw him shoot up six inches prior to that season, which led to his first real taste on the mound.

From there, he explored a couple of Division III offers – there weren’t many programs interested in a gangly 6-5, 180-pounder throwing in the mid-70s mph range. It was his high school coach who encouraged him to look at junior colleges, confident that he would fill out and gain strength to go with his frame. Reynolds ended up Kishwaukee College, in Malta, IL, and played summer ball with the East Peoria Scrappers.

“I needed to learn how to pitch,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t throw very hard – maybe hitting 80 (mph) on a good day. I mostly threw a lot of junk. It wasn’t until my (junior college) time that I started to develop some mechanics. Then I refined it and started learning how to get guys out.”

Getting guys out has been one of Reynolds’ specialties while with the Rockies. It has to be when coming out of the bullpen, no matter the situation. His ability to attack hitters with strikes early in the count makes him not only more dependable, but more dangerous as well. When he gets ahead in the count, which has done against 46 batters, 25 times it has ended in a strikeout. The next best Rockies reliever in that situation is closer Huston Street.

The mentality of attacking hitters early served him well en route during the Govs’ 2007 OVC tournament run. Many people forget that it was Reynolds, the Dark Horse, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. All he did was go 8.1 innings while allowing one run, striking out seven and walking none to put the Govs in the OVC tourney championship game.

And to think, none of this would have been possible had his dad, Sam Reynolds, not taken a job in Knoxville.

“My dad took that job and he told me I was coming down that summer,” Reynolds said. “I told him I was going to stay and play summer ball (in Illinois) and he said, ‘No you’re not. You’re coming down here.’ So I did.”

In Knoxville, Reynolds couldn’t shake the itch to play ball and found himself in an organized men’s league. His catcher turned out to be former Gov Jeremy Cabbage, who after working with Reynolds, called the APSU coaching staff.

“Cabbage helped me end up Austin Peay,” said Reynolds. “He obviously saw something, got a hold of (head coach Gary) McClure and (then-assistant coach Brian) Hetland. They made me an offer and I signed in December, 2004.”

Reynolds turned out to be a second-team All-OVC starting pitcher after his terrific senior year and upon reporting to camp with the Rockies was told he was moving to the pen. What most would take as a blow, Reynolds merely saw it as an opportunity to play more baseball.

His ability to throw strikes vaulted him through the minor leagues. In his first professional season he had 27 strikeouts to only four walks. At Class-A Asheville, Reynolds was one of three regular relievers to post a sub-3.00 ERA, and at Advanced-A Modesto, he struck out 58 in 49.0 innings pitched. That earned a mid-season promotion to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers where he collected 29 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.

“I guess I’m hard-wired to go after hitters,” said Reynolds. “My job has always been to get outs. I’ve found that you can get hurt a lot more when you don’t attack. You can’t mess around with guys because that only gives them an advantage.”

He started 2010 at Triple-A Colorado Springs and was named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. His remarkable start – no runs allowed in his first 18.2 innings – led to an August call up to the big leagues.

Reynolds made his major league debut August 19th against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was an auspicious start for his career, as he threw six pitches for a strikeout and a ground out to get out of the inning.

He finished 2010 with a 2.00 ERA in 21 appearances, allowing only four earned runs, striking out 17 and walking five. But it wasn’t just his numbers that landed him the opening day roster for 2011. He was the Rockies only left-handed reliever coming out of spring training.

Perhaps he shared a common bond with the team with the franchise. After all, no one has ever given the Rockies much of a chance, but somehow, they keep showing up in October.  Being the underdog is one area Reynolds has lots of perspective.

“All the way here, I got a lot of advice from a lot of different people,” Reynolds said. “I found that I need to keep what works and forget the stuff that doesn’t.

“Everyone is different, but a lot of things work the same way. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you get there. All that matters is that you’re there.”

For more on Matt Reynolds, see the video: Get to Know Colorado Rockies Reliever Matt Reynolds.

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