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Former JMU Star Now A Pirate

Posted: June 18, 2013

HARRISONBURG — James Madison baseball coach Spanky McFarland described Ryan Reid as fearless, hard and stubborn — a man with a “bulldog” mentality. That was Reid when he pitched for JMU in 2005 and 2006.

“He just came right at you with 92 and kind of a pretty good breaking ball,” McFarland said, referring to Reid’s fastball velocity and his sharp slider. “He didn’t throw a changeup. He didn’t have to. He just attacked. No fear.”

Years later, Reid is as fearless as ever, persevering through seven years in the minor leagues and a stress fracture in his pitching elbow to finally make the major leagues. The Pittsburgh Pirates called up the 28-year-old right-hander from Portland, Maine, on June 2, making Reid the 12th JMU player to make it to the majors.

Reid made his debut on June 3 in a 7-2 loss at Atlanta, pitching 1 ⅓ shutout innings in relief after coming in with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. He got Reed Johnson to ground out to end the inning. He then retired the side in order in the eighth, getting three straight ground balls.

“I was put in a tough spot: bases loaded, two outs,” Reid said. “I came in, got the out, and it was good after that. It was just baseball again.”

And ever since.

In 4 ⅔ innings spanning four appearances, Reid, a middle reliever, has a 1.93 ERA for the Pirates, who had the third-best ERA in the majors at 3.32 entering Monday’s games. Reid has allowed five hits and just one run, which came on a solo home run by the Braves’ B.J. Upton on June 4. Reid has struck out one and walked one.

“He’s somebody that we’re not afraid to bring in because he’s going to come right after the hitters and be aggressive,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said.

After nearly a decade in the minors and early success in the majors, Reid — who is still a year and a half away from a sports management degree at JMU — said he’s confident that he can stick in the majors.

“I’m gonna have some things to learn — we all do — but I think it’s not so overwhelming, getting on that mound,” Reid said. “That’s been a big thing for me. I know I can go out there and compete — and I don’t just want to compete; I want to win.”

Searage said it’s too early to say if Reid will turn his MLB cameo into a career. But he’s off to a good start.

“His future is looking promising,” Searage said. “If I had a crystal ball, I could give you a more definitive answer, but I don’t. … We got some guys coming back — he’s in the bullpen — we’ve got some guys that are starters that’ll be coming back. There’s going to have to be some moves that are going to have to be made. All he can do is go out there and pitch and control what he can control.”

Reid left Madison after his true sophomore year in 2006. Players can enter the MLB draft when they are 21 or three years out of high school, meaning typically after their junior year. Reid was 21 as a sophomore, the season he went 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 94 ⅓ innings over 14 games. He gave up 80 hits and struck out 124 — which helped him set the Dukes’ record for most strikeouts in a two-year period (200). His 10.25 strikeouts per nine innings is second-best all time at Madison.

The 5-foot-11 Reid was drafted in the seventh round by Tampa Bay and stayed with the Rays until signing with the Pirates as a free agent in November. McFarland said he had a feeling the move to Pittsburgh would be Reid’s break.

“When he signed with the Pirates, I thought, ‘All right. This is it, baby,’” said McFarland, who first saw Reid at a showcase tournament in Wilmington, N.C. “Typical Pirates: Not that good, always need pitching.”

After 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates are 41-28 and in third place in the NL Central, only three games back of the first-place Cardinals — and Reid seemingly made himself too good to ignore to join them.

At Triple-A Indianapolis, Reid had a 0.52 ERA in 34 ⅔ innings, striking out 31 and allowing just 20 hits and two earned runs. He walked only nine.

“He’s one of the guys that was pitching well, and we needed help, and those guys who perform well will get a shot to see if they can help out the ballclub,” Searage said. “And so far, he’s been a great surprise.”

It is a big turnaround for Reid, who, in his first professional season, went 1-9 with a 6.24 ERA as a starter for Single-A Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. The next season, the Rays turned Reid into a reliever, where he’s excelled since coming back from the 2008 elbow stress fracture.

Searage said Reid gets batters out by being aggressive, keeping the ball down and getting ahead in counts, and Reid said the keys for him were smoothing his mechanics, developing more pitches (he has added a sinker and the changeup he never got the chance to develop at JMU) and focusing on his niche.

“The biggest thing I can say to any minor leaguer is find out what you do well and don’t try to compare yourself to other people,” Reid said. “There’s always going to be someone who throws harder than you.”

Reid said a crucial moment in his development came while playing winter ball two years ago in Venezuela. His team didn’t have a closer, but Reid, in a not-very-surprising move, volunteered despite minimal closing experience. He wanted to push himself.

“I was going to be the middle-relief, late-inning guy and I told them straight up I wanted to be the closer,” Reid said. “I want to take that challenge on. Nobody else really wanted the ball at the time, so I took that and kind of ran with it and learned a lot about myself. … You learn about yourself, how to control yourself in those situations and keep the game simple.”

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