John Clay: Saving Reed for Saturday was right call for UK

jclay@herald-leader.com,John ClayMay 30, 2014 

  • NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

    Kentucky vs. Kent State

    When: 1 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Louisville

    Louisville vs. Kansas

    When: 5 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Louisville

LOUISVILLE — Sometimes you can make the right decision and get the wrong result.

Gary Henderson did the right thing. The UK baseball coach did the smart thing, keeping his ace pitcher/slugger A.J. Reed, the national player of the year, off the mound Friday for Kentucky's opener of the NCAA Louisville Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.

First-round foe Kansas is stacked with right-handed hitters. Reed is a left-handed pitcher. Possible second-round foe and region top seed Louisville boasts a pair of lefties as its best hitters.

Henderson played the percentages. And lost.

Kentucky didn't win.

On a long afternoon filled with long interruptions — two rain delays and two lightning delays totaling three hours and 21 minutes — the one constant was Kansas hitting, the Jayhawks pounding out 13 hits on the way to a 10-6 victory.

Now, UK either wins Saturday at 1 p.m. or the season is over.

Kyle Cody, the pitcher Henderson elected to take the mound Friday, lasted all of six hitters. A walk, Cody's errant throw on a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice bunt that scored a run, a double and a single, followed by the first rain shower, sent him to the showers.

"I did not see that coming," Henderson said.

After all, Cody pitched well last time out, limiting SEC regular-season champ Florida to two runs over 51⁄3 innings during the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

Of the four teams in this regional, however, Kentucky sported the highest ERA at 3.98. The exception has been Reed, who not only hit .351 with 23 homers and 70 RBI, but as a pitcher went 11-2 with a 2.10 ERA over 15 starts.

Going into a four-team, double-elimination tournament, one school of thought is that you throw your best pitcher to get that first victory and move into the winners' bracket. The other school says tournament play is all about matchups. Pick the pitcher that gives you the best matchup.

And as it turned out, because of the weather, Reed wouldn't have pitched deep into the game anyway. Too many starts and stops.

So, despite the loss, was Henderson still comfortable with his decision?

"Sure," said the coach. "He doesn't get to pitch nine innings today. There's no guarantee tomorrow, but that's certainly what we need out of him, that's how we're built. ... A.J. is going to need to chop up a bunch of innings tomorrow."

It can be done. As Henderson pointed out, the UK softball team lost its first super regional game at UCLA, then swept the Bruins to reach the Women's College World Series.

Henderson's club has encountered ups and downs all season, rallying down the stretch to earn a No. 2 regional seed. That gives the coach the belief his team can rebound again.

"I do and the reason is not just because I'm the coach and I'm supposed to say that," the coach said. "We've got a pretty good track record of doing it. We really do as you look at this group. We haven't been able to run off long streaks of Ws once the conference season started, but we've bounced back pretty well."

That he'll be throwing his best pitcher doesn't hurt.

"I'm going to throw whenever coach tells me to throw," Reed said. "I'm just going to go out there and give it my best and give our team a chance to win, throw strikes, attack the hitters and do what I've done all year."

"It'll be just like Friday night," Henderson said. "We'll do everything we can to have him pitch as long as he can as long as he stays effective and all that, same routine that A.J. has been through."

One thing works against the Cats: None of the 16 regional winners last season came out of the losers' bracket.

And Kentucky hasn't won four straight games since March 5.

Then again, if you are Gary Henderson and you are facing an elimination game, who better to have on the mound than A.J. Reed.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service