Photo illustrations by Ian Billings
Jefferson P. Nolan
The Cal Poly baseball team hasn’t always called redshirt sophomore pitcher Reed Reilly “Big Sexy.”
But when a fan from Krukow’s Klubhouse bellowed the nickname to cheer on Reilly after he pitched out of a jam earlier this season, the name stuck.
As superstitious baseball players can attest, you don’t fix something unless it’s broken.
Now nearing the end of the 2013 season, Reilly has accumulated Cal Poly’s lowest earned run average (ERA) at 2.24. He has recorded the team’s highest amount of strikeouts per nine innings with 10.15 and has appeared in more games this season than any other Cal Poly pitcher.
And even under his new pseudonym, “Big Sexy” remembers the times when things weren’t going as planned. Not only was he not dominating on the mound, the pitcher was having difficulty throwing a strike.
Recruited out of JSerra Catholic High School by head coach Larry Lee, Reilly stepped onto the field at Baggett Stadium his freshman year as a recruited walk-on. But the future reliever found the transition to college baseball to be a difficult one.
“The coaches told me I had a chance to be a starter as a freshman,” Reilly said. “But I knew I just wasn’t ready physically or mentally.”
Coming down with a case of the “yips” (a baseball condition of suddenly not being able to throw the ball accurately) in his first year, Reilly decided to redshirt the 2011 season. During his time practicing and traveling with the team, Reilly was led by many of the upperclassmen, including pitchers Mason Radeke and Jeff Johnson (both of whom were drafted by the Cleveland Indians). It was under their guidance that the Dana Point native truly began his development as a college pitcher.
“They were great leaders,” Reilly said. “They taught me and all the other freshmen, and that’s why we’re here today. They were just a big help in getting us all into the college level.”
Following the 2012 season, Reilly was awarded first-team All-Big West Conference honors, and he was considered to be the Mustangs’ most reliable reliever after he recorded a 2.80 ERA and a record of 5-2.
Relief pitcher Michael Holback was a walk-on with Reilly his freshman year, and the junior right-hander remembers how much work it took for his friend and teammate to get to where he is.
“Reed fought so hard to get to where he is now,” Holback said. “He is definitely not the pitcher he was from freshman year. He’s developed so much and is mentally tougher. We’ve got to the point where we’re not going to back down to anybody.”
And with the addition of pitching coach Thomas Eager in June, Reilly began to throw the ball a little harder; he gained even more confidence in his pitches.
“(Eager) has really developed each and every one of us more than I could have imagined,” Reilly said. “He is so personal and motivational, and he set a standard for us.”
When the game is on the line and when the team is in a tight jam, Lee often turns to Reilly to fix it. And while he pitches as a reliever, the righty has accumulated 14 saves in his 28 appearances.
“We’ve had a couple of other pitchers out of the bullpen that have been successful for us, but he’s been our go-to guy,” Lee said. “He’s gotten us out of a lot of sticky situations. The more that’s at stake, the more he thrives. That’s what you want from a pitcher, especially at the end of the game.”
Reilly’s mentality is simple: Throw strikes, and throw them hard.
“I don’t really see myself as a closer,” Reilly said. “I see myself as a reliever who happens to get some saves. If it’s a close game, I want to be in the game. Coming out of the pen, you’re throwing your nastiest stuff. I love holding the game in my hands.”
However, Mustangs fans may be catching their last glimpse of Reilly this season as Lee remains unsure whether or not his ace out of the pen will return for the 2014 campaign. After completing his third year of college, Reilly will be eligible for the major league draft in early June, and for him — like so many kids growing up — his dream has always been to play professional baseball.
“We’ll see if we’re lucky enough to keep him for next year,” Lee said. “If we’re able to keep him, we’ll expect the same from him as this year. But that’s a big ‘if.’ He’s put himself on the map in regards to being a pitching prospect for the major league draft.”
With the Mustangs tied for fourth place in the Big West, the pressure is mounted for Reilly and the Mustangs as they host Cal State Northridge this weekend, chasing a bid to the NCAA regionals later this month.
But when the game is on the line, “Big Sexy” is the Mustangs’ fixer. For him, the more pressure, the better.