Out of options, reliever rising to occasion while drawing praise from Ausmus
TAMPA, Fla. -- At this point, Evan Reed knows who's watching and what's at stake.
Reed is competing for a spot in the Tigers' bullpen, so he's aware he has to prove himself to Detroit's coaches and front office. He's also out of Minor League options, so if he doesn't crack the Tigers' Opening Day roster, he knows he has to pitch well enough to earn the same opportunity with another club.
So far, Reed has given all the watchful eyes a lot to like. The hard-throwing right-hander has put together a 2.25 ERA through six Grapefruit League appearances, striking out 11 batters and holding them to a .111 average in eight innings. He's commanding three or four pitches each time he takes the mound, including a fastball that clocks in from 95-98 mph, and he has certainly caught the Tigers' attention.
"I feel great, man. I feel very confident every time I take the mound right now," Reed said after pitching two innings against the Yankees on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. "I know every time I go out there, I'm getting evaluated, so I make the most of every opportunity.
"I've been around long enough where I know every day I have to prove myself. ... You can't think of it as, like, 'I can't fail today.' You have to think of it as, 'I'm going to make the most of this opportunity today.'"
It remains to be seen if Reed can make the most of this chance and capture one of the final spots in Detroit's bullpen, but he's done almost everything he could to earn it at this point. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has praised the 28-year-old for mixing in effective sliders and changeups while commanding his high-velocity fastball, and catcher Alex Avila raves about the improvement in Reed's secondary offerings compared to last season.
"He's thrown really well," Ausmus said. "He's been impressive."
Reed noted that he mostly threw four-seam fastballs and sliders a year ago, but he's doing a better job this year of working in a two-seamer and changeup. That keeps batters on their toes, as they also have to respect a fastball that regularly clocks in at 97 mph.
"His offspeed stuff has improved big time over the last year, and he's thrown great this spring. It's hard not to like 96-97 [mph fastballs], especially when he's throwing strikes," Avila said Wednesday. "[His offspeed stuff is] just sharp. I think he feels more comfortable throwing it. The biggest key for pitchers is being able to throw it for strikes, but also making out pitches with them. He's just been able to improve his consistency with them. ... But a mid-to-upper 90s fastball plays any time."
Reed entered this spring appreciative of the opportunity the Tigers gave him a year ago, after the Marlins designated him for assignment toward the end of Spring Training. He put together a 2.54 ERA in 49 2/3 innings over 32 appearances with Triple-A Toledo and recorded a 4.24 ERA in 16 outings with the Tigers.
Reed gained a great deal of confidence during his first stint in the Majors, but he also took the opportunity to improve himself, singling out Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke for the way they helped him. He said he's continued to learn from the dedication some of Detroit's veteran relievers carry into even the most mundane parts of their daily routines -- from the way they play catch to their intensity on every pitch.
Reed cited a specific example from Wednesday's outing. The first pitch he threw, a mid-thigh fastball to Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, landed over the fence in left-center field. If he had started the fifth inning with the same focus he maintained while retiring the next six Yankees in order, perhaps he could have enjoyed another completely clean outing.
"It shows a lot that I was able to rebound from that with six straight outs," Reed said. "But if I had just come in even more locked in from the start -- it just shows how those little things, if you are diligent in everything that you do, they make a big difference."
Reed already has the kind of velocity and strikeout potential that Ausmus says he looks for in relievers. The fact that he's out of options could work in his favor as a sort of tiebreaker -- if the Tigers would rather keep him around than risk losing him on waivers.
No matter how the rest of the spring plays out, Reed believes he's proven himself to everyone who's been watching.
"I'm extremely confident. Looking around, there's just not a lot of guys that have pounded the strike zone like me right now with multiple pitches," Reed said. "I hope the Tigers give me a chance, but if I just control what I can control and put myself in the best possible position, I think some team would want me on their team."