Jimmy Reed bounded off the mound and jogged toward the third base line during his final practice with the Maryland baseball team last month. And it’s at that moment, sizing up the 6-foot Reed and wondering how a once-scrawny Atlanta Braves fan from Gaithersburg has become a mid-round MLB pitching prospect, that you realize the Terrapins’ ace has been practicing with an open fly.
“Just a broken zipper,” Reed explained, shrugging off a wardrobe malfunction discovered weeks before. He stopped worrying about what others thought long ago, like the high school opponents who mockingly shouted, “Bring out the L-screen,” as if Reed were employed to hurl batting practice and nothing more.
That was 30 pounds ago, when Reed looked nothing like the left-handed workhorse who boasted a 2.33 ERA this season, with 22 strikeouts over his last two outings and consecutive ACC pitcher of the week awards, the first such achievement in program history. At this year’s Major League Baseball draft, which begins Thursday, Reed might hear his name called on the second day, sometime before Round 15.
“No one’s really surprised now,” catcher Jack Cleary said.
Reed is equally unflappable when innings sour, revealing little emotion beyond facing the outfield, pounding his glove and shouting “Let’s go.”
“That’s Example A as to how to handle things,” Maryland Coach John Szefc said. “If you’re a young guy, trying to figure something out, go hang out with that guy. Buy him lunch or do his laundry, because you need to get in that guy’s head.”
For years, Reed struggled with the issues for which younger teammates now seek counsel. He entered Maryland weighing 148 pounds out of St. John’s in the District and labored to a 7.94 ERA over his freshman and sophomore seasons. Thanks to a nutrition program that required 4 a.m. wakeup calls to guzzle protein shakes, he’s up to 180 pounds. His fastball now hovers around 90 mph, and he throws three other pitches — a change-up, curveball and cutter, his swing-and-miss pitch — with deadly accuracy.
After that rough start, Reed also devoted himself to studying baseball’s mental components. “One hundred percent the most important part of the game,” he said. Reed developed an extensive routine for starts, from day-of meals at Bagel Place (plain with cream cheese), Jimmy John’s (the Country Club sandwich) and 7-11 (trail mix) to the water break he allows himself after exactly 20 pitches on the bullpen mound. Even on days off, teammates know what they’ll get: an intensely focused observer, startling the Terps with unexpected caterwauls after big plays.
“He’s really into the game, so sometimes he’ll freak out,” Cleary said. “Like not in a bad way. In a good way. It’s funny. Sometimes we have to tell him, ‘Easy.’ ”
Last spring, the New York Yankees drafted Reed in the 21st round after his eight saves tied for second-most in school history in 2012. He declined to sign, instead opting to play in the summer Cape Cod League and pitching eight games for the Orleans Firebirds before returning to College Park.
“Most importantly, I felt like I had something to prove,” Reed said. “I didn’t start the whole year, I felt like I could come back and be a Friday night starter in the ACC. . . . And I’m glad I did. I have no regrets at all.”
At least seven scouts occupied the stands on May 16 for Reed’s final start at Maryland. He struggled at first against Boston College, allowing three first-inning hits and a leadoff home run to Chris Shaw in the second. Reed then retired 11 straight Eagles , but runners reached second base in both the seventh and eighth.
Then emerged the dominant Reed, tough enough to close the eighth with back-to-back strikeouts, both looking, both on full counts. Having thrown more than 120 pitches with the Terps still down 2-1, Reed conferred with pitching coach Jim Belanger, deciding he had enough left to climb the mound one more time.
After striking out Stephen Sauter to start the inning — Reed’s 11th of the game, which matched a career high — up stepped Shaw, the only Eagle to reach base twice. The lefty sliced a double down the left field line, and out stepped Belanger to pull his star. “I think inside, there were some emotions,” the pitching coach said later, “but he’s too much of a pro to show it right now.”
As relief arrived from the bullpen and Reed surrendered the baseball, the Terps formed an aisle for high-fives and hugs. A modest crowd, including family members and friends, offered a standing ovation. By now the sky had turned an imperial purple as Reed walked through the tunnel, withdrawing into the shadow of the dugout.