LEXINGTON, KY. —
Two full-time jobs
Reed has been able to become one of the best hitters in the country while improving into one of the SEC’s best pitchers. Reed is 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA and has 46 strikeouts against just 18 walks. In many ways, the improvement Reed has made on the mound is as stark as it’s been at the plate.
Reed — who can throw a fastball, curveball and change-up with command — isn’t a high strikeout pitcher at the college level. He pitches to contact and works the zone deftly for someone who could easily just depend on the power he could bring to bear with his arm.
“A.J.’s always been able to throw the ball wherever he wants to at a pretty high rate since he’s been here,” Kentucky catcher Michael Thomas said. “That’s why his strikeouts numbers aren’t high, he gets hit a lot, but as long as he stays low in the zone and throw strikes, his punch-out numbers will go up.”
Reed said he had to “crisp up” his three pitches. How Reed finds the time to hone both his batting and his pitching to a fine art is part of his greatness. Reed essentially has two full-time jobs as a Friday night starter and UK’s best hitter. When asked how Reed divides his labor, Kentucky coach Gary Henderson credited Reed’s maturation as a baseball player and person.
Reed has experience dealing with the dual role, but it took some practice before he mastered it at the collegiate level. He had to perfect his approach.
“I’m not going to say I’m more focused on pitching on Fridays, but I think that’s a little bit more important because I set the tone for the game on the mound. I have to make pitches, but at the same time, I have to score runs,” Reed said. “Once I go in the dugout, after I throw or after an at-bat, I just have to switch to the other one. That just comes with practice over the years, both at high school and here.”
Kentucky does what it can to take the load off Reed as much as possible. He has had just three outings where he’s worked eight innings. Kentucky tries to play him at designated hitter as much as possible to avoid the physical load of playing first base. Reed has played 12 games at first this season.
“It’s a big load for him, but he’s handling it. I think with the body change it’s enabled him to handle the workload better than he has in the past. But in terms of repetitions? Nobody works as hard on his swing as A.J.,” Green said.
Thomas thinks that his two-way excellence is part of Reed embracing his role as the Wildcats’ best player.
“He’s confident. One of the most confident players I’ve ever met in my life.,” said Thomas, who noted that Reed has stayed humble and remains “one of the guys”.
“I think A.J. realizes how big of a role he has and how impactful he can be not only in the outcome of the game, but for the rest of his teammates. I think he plays at as high a level as he possibly can. He doesn’t play out of himself, he’s just A.J. Reed, he goes out, sees the ball, hits the ball, and pitches the best he can,” Thomas said.