By MATTHEW STEVENS
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State head coach John Cohen doesn’t pigeonhole his relievers' appearances.
The third-year head coach believes that if a certain situation calls for his best arm, he turns to Caleb Reed – no matter the inning.
That’s why the junior closer trotted out of the bullpen in the fourth inning Saturday with State down 2-0 before the second-ranked Gators could put the elimination game out of reach.
"When Caleb does his thing, he's the best pitcher we have,” MSU senior third baseman Jarrod Parks said. “If we were going to lose, I wanted to lose with Caleb Reed on the mound."
Reed (1-1) dominated Florida’s lineup that had scored 13 runs in the last 13 innings against Mississippi State before his appearance and got his first victory of the season in his 27th appearance.
Reed finished Saturday with 5 1/3 innings allowing just a single run over four hits with two strikeouts in 82 pitches.
“Certainly Caleb is a most proven performer out of the pen and you wanted the ball in his hands as long as he felt good,” Cohen said.
Saturday marked Reed’s first career win against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
“I told somebody I’ll take that as my first win any day of the week,” Reed said.
After finishing the 2011 season with a 1.41 earned run average and 11 saves to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors, Reed amazingly went to MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson to create a changeup that he could showcase for postseason play.
The theory behind the new pitch is the same philosophy behind the right-hander learning to throw from three different arm angles (overhand, side-arm and submarine) weeks before last season started – deception.
“It’s not on a scouting report and that’s what we talk about all the time,” Reed said. “If you develop something late in the season, it’s not on their radar. When I threw (the changeup) against Southern Mississippi last weekend, they had no idea I had one.”
After giving up a double to Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year, Reed got Gators cleanup hitter Preston Tucker to pop out in a tie game with his new invented pitch.
“He’s been pulling the ball all weekend hard and so we threw him some fastballs and he fouled them off,” Reed said. “(MSU catcher Wes Thigpen) and I both knew we wanted to go changeup because if I throw a slider there, he can easily hit it over the right field fence.”
For Cohen and the Mississippi State squad, the bringing in of Reed is just as much a mental thing than a physical change of style on the mound.
“Every time he comes in the game – I walk over and tell him just do your thing,” Parks said. “I just feel better and everything is okay when he’s on the mound.”
Reed, who has a 1.45 earned run average, doesn't light up radar guns and wasn’t drafted this week by a professional organization. Reed understands that in a matter of a two-year development he’s gone from guy who Cohen wondered how he’d get SEC hitters out to being the safety blanket for an MSU squad against one of the best lineups in the country.
“If you can’t get people out with what you do, you got to change it,” Reed said. “I’ve been getting outs but I’m a guy that has to do this if I’m going to keep getting people out. That’s what I’ve done all year.”
Reed’s only longer appearance this season was the seven innings he threw to finish off the 2011 regular season in a 6-3 loss to LSU that lasted 113 pitches.
It’s also not surprising at all what Reed did as soon as the players met in the locker room after the 4-3 win over Florida Saturday.
"I already went up & told (MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson), you give me the ball in the ninth and I'm fine,” Reed said as he adjusted the large ice pack on his right shoulder.
Cohen said after the win he “felt very good’ about the Bulldogs bullpen situation and left open the possibility of using Reed in a specific situation today.
“We still have arms. especially in the bullpen,” Cohen said. “If it comes down to it, we’ll wait and see how Caleb feels and see if he can get us an out or two although that would not be preferable.”
Reed, who normally as a routine starts every game in the bullpen anyway, described in detail the plan for him if MSU is in a close game with the lead.
“I can already tell you what’s going to happen,” Reed said. “We’re going to throw (and) Coach Thompson is going to ask me ‘are you good?’ (and) I’ll say ‘yes sir, I feel fine’ and that’s the end of it.”
Like the end of the game when Mississippi State needs a win, the end of the conversation between Thompson and Reed will conclude with the 5-foot-9 right-hander getting the baseball.
“That’s just how it’s going to be and how I want it to be,” Reed said. “Bottom line – I want the baseball with the game on the line.”