This week’s trade for Kevin Youkilis might turn out to be the move that puts the White Sox over the top in the AL Central. Then again, the Sox might not have been in contention at all if not for another move, earlier in the season.
It happened in late May when manager Robin Ventura named Addison Reed the team’s closer. Ventura channeled his predecessor, Ozzie Guillen, and maybe Yogi Berra, too, in praising the 23-year-old pitcher. “Some nights he’s up at 98 [miles per hour], some nights it’s 96, but still pretty good,” Ventura said. “Even when you’d look at him and think he doesn’t have it, he’s got it.”
Reed has rewarded his manager’s choice. There have been some shaky outings, including Tuesday night, when he allowed a two-run single before getting the last out for his 10th save in 11 tries. After the game, Reed was quick to share his thoughts—on Twitter—about the outing:
Sorry guys..just wanted to make things a little interesting tonight..back at em tomorrow!!
— Addison Reed (@areed38) June 27, 2012
It’s that kind of confidence, along with a live arm, that convinces some Sox watchers that Reed might become a truly great closer. That’s what the Sox hoped when they drafted him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and that’s what they hope now as they make a somewhat unlikely run at the postseason.
On television, Reed looks like a Little Leaguer—his cap pulled down low over black Magic-Marker eyebrows, his lips stretched tight in a frown, grimacing with every pitch as if heaving it with all his might.
Up close, it’s another story. Reed is big—6-foot-4, 220, with long arms and wide shoulders. On the mound and in the locker room, the California native evokes a sense of surfer cool.
Earlier this month, in a game against the Brewers, before one of the biggest crowds of the year at the Cell, Ventura called on Reed uncharacteristically early, in the eighth inning, to protect a one run-lead. There were two on and two out. After walking Aramis Ramirez, Reed faced Brewer first baseman Corey Hart. The crowd, a mixture of Sox and Brewer faithful, buzzed. Reed grimaced and threw a fastball, which Hart topped to short for an easy out. After a 1-2-3 ninth, Reed picked up the save, and the Sox had another win.
“I like pitching when the game is on the line, I like the pressure situations,” Reed said, standing in front of the Sox dugout before a recent game. “I feed off those situations.”
Addison Devon Reed grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He played first base, mostly, in high school, and didn’t take up pitching until his junior year. He went south for college, playing for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University. In his sophomore season, Reed went 20-for-20 in save opportunities, leading the nation, even as his teammate, the eventual No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, got most of the attention.
Reed didn’t mind. He said he was happy that some of the scouts who came to see Strasburg also got to see the pitcher relieving him.
Reed knows the gunslinger attitude required for the job. As a young Angels fan, he rooted for Troy Percival coming out of the bullpen.
“You can tell he has done it before,” said his teammate Jesse Crain. “He is not afraid to get right after you with that fastball. You have some closers out there who are afraid to do that, and [try] mixing in all these different pitches. He is going to throw strikes and he is going to come right at you and show you what he has got. It takes courage to do that.”
Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said he is happy with Reed’s aggressiveness, but he still wants to see him work on off-speed pitches to make his fastball more effective, and to help him on days when his heater isn’t as hot as it ought to be.
“With Addison, we are trying to get better command of the fastball,” Cooper said. “The changeup is coming on quick. We are trying to get his breaking ball locked in.”
The Sox drafted Reed to close games. The only question entering the season was whether he was ready. Ventura tried Hector Santiago first. Soon after he turned to Reed.
“He has talent, and he is a tough-minded kid,” Ventura said before a recent game. “He is not afraid of anything.”
Ventura was asked if Reed reminded him of any of the closers with whom he played. Bobby Thigpen? Roberto Hernandez? Mariano Rivera?
“He reminds me of Addison Reed,” he said, “and that is good enough for me.”
Now we’ll see if it’s good enough for the playoffs.
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DANIEL I. DORFMAN is a freelance sportswriter living in Chicago.
STORY ART: Main image made in-house with photo of Addison Reed by Jim Mone/AP Images.