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Reyes shows veteran poise in shutting down Giants

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

SAN FRANCISCO -- Thrust into a Major League rotation at the heart of the Cardinals' playoff push, rookie Alex Reyes responded Sunday by matching the magnitude of the moment with the biggest performance of his career. His seven shutout innings served as the backbone for a 3-0 win that pulled the Cardinals to within one game of the Giants in the Wild Card race.

"That kind of answers a lot of questions about whether he can handle pressure when you put him in a spot like that," manager Mike Matheny said. "He knows where we are in the season, and he's been able to really maximize the moment, which is something that's very hard for a kid to do."

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Thrust into a Major League rotation at the heart of the Cardinals' playoff push, rookie Alex Reyes responded Sunday by matching the magnitude of the moment with the biggest performance of his career. His seven shutout innings served as the backbone for a 3-0 win that pulled the Cardinals to within one game of the Giants in the Wild Card race.

"That kind of answers a lot of questions about whether he can handle pressure when you put him in a spot like that," manager Mike Matheny said. "He knows where we are in the season, and he's been able to really maximize the moment, which is something that's very hard for a kid to do."

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In many ways, Reyes, 22, spent the summer building toward this day. After serving a suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse, Reyes opened his season in Triple-A, where the Memphis staff began to refine the repertoire that had bumped Reyes to the top of the organization's prospect chart. Reyes was encouraged to throw his changeup -- a pitch especially effective Sunday -- more liberally to right-handed batters and to pound the bottom part of the zone.

But what he had all along is what, in particular, shined Sunday -- a presence beyond his experience.

"You always look to see how he's going to react in the most uncomfortable [situation]," said Mike Shildt, who managed Reyes in Triple-A and was in San Francisco to watch him Sunday. "He was able to keep his focus from being out wide to being more narrow and make pitches. His composure, his makeup, it's a special trait."

Whether it be as he waited out an 11-minute delay in the second due to an umpiring change or how he regrouped after his throwing error moved the potential tying runs into scoring position, Reyes never flinched. He escaped that sixth-inning mess with a strikeout and flyout to strand three.

Video: STL@SF: Reyes escapes bases-loaded jam in the 6th

"That was a turning point in the game, one of those momentum shifts," Matheny said. "You could see some of the things that we've seen from some of our better pitchers we've had around here for a long time -- when they get into those spots with their backs against the wall, they make better pitches. They just get that laser focus. For a young pitcher to be able to have that attribute is very rare."

Rare, too, was Reyes' immediate buy-in to the Cardinals' suggestion that he adjust from what worked so well in the Minors to what will sustain him in the Majors. Efficiency issues caused by lapses in command were absent Sunday as he willingly pulled back on velocity in order to induce early-count contact.

After averaging 97 mph on two- and four-seam fastballs in his first two career starts, Reyes posted an average velocity of 95 and 96 mph, respectively, on those pitches Sunday. Mixed in was a filthy changeup that kept San Francisco's hitters uncomfortable all afternoon. Opponents are now hitting .167 against him in 35 innings.

"I was not afraid for them to put the ball in play," Reyes said, "and I feel like that's what worked today."

After needing 85 pitches to cover 4 1/3 innings in relief five days ago, Reyes finished Sunday's seven innings on 84. It's the sort of growth, Matheny confirmed, that will earn Reyes a stay in the rotation.

"That [efficiency] was radically different than what we saw last time, and that's called making adjustments," Matheny said. "That's brilliant pitching."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes