Al Reyes is off to an unprecedented start to his role as the closer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays this season. Recently, Reyes broke the Devil Rays team record for the most consecutive saves to start off a season. At the end of spring training, it appeared that the Devil Rays would have to use the dreaded closer-by-committee scenario to close out games in save situations. That was until Reyes got off to a scintillating start in the month of April. Even though baseball experts and fantasy gurus are expecting him to cool off the All-Star level that he is currently pitching at, it seems Reyes is only getting stronger as the season progresses. Reyes was brilliant in the Disney series on his way to helping the Devil Rays earn their first series sweep of the year.
The questions about his capability to pitch on back-to-back days are fading away faster than it takes it takes Carl Crawford to speed around the bases for a triple. He eliminated any doubts about durability by pitching effectively in five of Tampa Bay’s last six games.
In a young and inexperienced bullpen, Reyes is a savior for Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. When the game is on the line, could you imagine the Devil Rays sending anyone else out there to close the game? A better question, can you imagine where the Devil Rays might be without him? Reyes has been the most (arguably the only) consistent pitcher in an embattled bullpen all season long. His numbers say it all. In 20 appearances, Reyes is 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA, the third lowest earned run average of any closer in the American League. Not to mention, he is a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities. But what serious Devil Rays fan could forget that?
Reyes has been extremely reliable for the Devil Rays when the game is one the line. Considering Roberto Hernandez is probably the greatest closer in the club’s brief ten year history, this is a pleasant change for Tampa Bay fans. He might have been a non-roster invitee to spring training, but Al Reyes is lights out.
Going solely on his performance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, the Devil Rays took a chance on Reyes by signing him to a minor league deal in the off season. Even though they knew that he wouldn't throw a pitch at all last season in a major league game, the organization made a calculated risk by signing Reyes, which is now paying off tremendously. As low of a risk as singing the veteran journeyman was, he is providing the Devil Rays with a higher reward than anyone could have ever imagined. Investing in Reyes is providing similar benefits to an investor in the stock market that learned the word “EBay” before the internet boom. Reyes, who is now arguably one of the top closers in the entire American League, is that rare of a find. He is currently among the big-league leaders in saves, second in the American League behind Detroit Tigers closer Todd Jones, and his ERA is more than two runs lower than the next member of the Tampa Bay bullpen. And that pitcher, Juan Salas, is going to be out for a while in case you haven’t heard.
Reyes' performance has been a pleasant surprise to say the least. Again, I ask you this? Can you imagine where Tampa Bay would be without him? Somehow I don’t think the Devil Rays’ record would be anywhere close to where it is now with Shawn Camp, Seth McClung, Ruddy Lugo, or Brian Stokes closing out games. When you consider how much the rest of the bullpen has struggled, it's clear to see that Reyes has been the most valuable player on the Devil Rays through the first six weeks of the season.
Before Opening Day, Reyes hadn't pitched in a major league game since the fall of 2005 with St. Louis. During that season, the best year of his career (before this one), he only allowed 38 hits in 62.2 innings to help the Cardinals win the National League Central division title. He finished the year with a 4-2 record and a 2.15 ERA in 65 appearances and was well on his way to finally establishing his place in Major League Baseball. However, at what seemed like the pinnacle of his career, an elbow injury, whicch forced him to miss the entire post season, led to a pitcher's worst nightmare - Tommy John surgery. The injury greatly affected the demand for Reyes on the free agent market during the winter of 2006. But, in what turned out to be a blessing for the Tampa Bay franchise the elbow injury enabled the Devil Rays to sign him for an affordable price.
This time last season, Reyes was rehabilitating his infamous right elbow, you know, the one that cut his career season short, at the Naimoli Complex by Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg. Although he was literally only five minutes away from Tropicana Field, Reyes must have felt like he was hundreds of miles away from reaching the big leagues again with overwhelming odds against his comeback attempt. But Reyes is different; he has great makeup and never threw in the towel. The odds against him were parallel to the odds facing Lastings Milledge’s current attempt at a rapping career, but Reyes has already proven wrong everyone who ever doubted him. You can add his name to a long list of pitchers who have come back, in his case stronger, from a surgery that once ended so many promising baseball futures.
I hope the Devil Rays can ride Reyes’ seasoned arm to as many victories as possible this season. Sure, he will go through some lows this season as all pitchers do, but every Tampa Bay fan should have unwavering faith in Reyes when the Devil Rays have a lead headed into the ninth inning. Last January, if you were to tell even an avid baseball fan that Al Reyes would even have a chance of representing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the All-Star Game in San Francisco in July, you would strike a one word response. Who? Now, if he can continue to be a force in the late innings for the Devil Rays throughout the rest of the summer, an All-Star appearance, which would be the first of his career, might be a sure thing. In a game of a game of uncertainties, there is one thing is one thing for certain, Reyes has my vote.