NEW YORK – Sean Reid-Foley is part of the youth movement that’s giving Blue Jays fans a reason to tune in down the stretch of a disappointing season. He’s one of the team’s best pitching prospects, and he has arrived appropriately adorned with a blue jay tattoo on his right forearm. (There’s also a cardinal, as those are his grandmother’s two favorite birds that she spots outside her house.)
Coming off a successful major league debut against the Royals with a line that read five innings, six hits, three runs, three walks and three strikeouts, Reid-Foley was kind enough to sit down for a quick chat with BP Toronto a day before his Saturday start against the Yankees.
When asked to describe himself as a pitcher, Reid-Foley opts for a meat and potatoes answer.
“I just want to go out every day and compete and give the team a chance to win and be a fun guy in the clubhouse, be a good teammate, have everyone’s back.”
It’s a respectable description, if a modest one. Reid-Foley’s repertoire is headlined by his fastball. He used it to good effect against the Royals and was willing to climb the ladder to challenge hitters. The pitch topped out at a shade under 96 miles per hour and was responsible for seven of his 12 whiffs on the night. He also used it 57 times on that muggy Monday, combining to throw his curveball, slider and changeup 40 times.
While that’s his greatest strength by most accounts, Reid-Foley declined to put his arsenal in such stark terms.
“It’s night to night. You’ve got to adjust, it’s a game of adjustments. Whatever the night may be.”
That night called for fastballs. His changeup looked good in its limited usage, but on a night where Reid-Foley’s slider and curveball command were a little off, he primarily used his heater to get through the Royals lineup.
On Saturday, the Yankees were much less kind to the rookie, ambushing him for eight runs (six earned) on seven hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. It wasn’t the start that anyone was hoping to see from him, but Reid-Foley is all about competing and overcoming previous failures. That’s been the case since his early years in pro ball.
Looking at his minor league track record, a promising trend emerges: At every level where Reid-Foley has pitched in more than one season, his numbers the second time around are better by a comfortable margin.
When asked about some of the lessons he took from one year to the next in order to improve himself, Reid-Foley said that he’d solicit help from others to make sure he was on the right path.
“Just really learning about myself, learning more routines that will help me, really learning from other teammates, other starters, even bullpen guys and how they go about their business. Really just knowing how to go out and compete every day and be ready to take the ball every five days.”
Competition was on the menu for most of the afternoon on Saturday, with the tone set in the first inning. The game began with a leadoff walk where Brett Gardner eventually won an eight-pitch battle that saw Reid-Foley working up and away. After striking out the menacing Giancarlo Stanton with a picture-perfect slider and retiring Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius strode to the plate. With his first pitch Reid-Foley dropped the shortstop to his knees with a 94 mph fastball that would’ve clipped his shin if not for some fancy footwork.
In the moment, it felt like Reid-Foley was going on the attack, forcing Gregorius to think about not getting so close to the plate, setting up more pitches high and away. Pitch two was a low fastball on the outside corner of the strike zone, while pitch three whizzed up and out of the zone off the plate, before Reid-Foley induced a swinging strike on a great changeup on pitch four. Pitch five was a fastball at the very top outer corner of the strike zone, decent pitch placement in a vacuum. But Danny Jansen had set up low and inside. Gregorius sent it over the wall in right center.
While the penchant for fighting back and overcoming lies mostly with Reid-Foley, he also noted some consistent themes imparted by the organization in his work through the various minor league levels.
“They definitely want you to be able to take care of yourself and always be putting yourself in the best situation whether it’s on the field or off the field – carry yourself as a professional. Number one obviously is be on time for everything, just little stuff like that that they really cement with you and you kind of live your life by it as you get older and you get around it a lot more.
“On the pitching side I’d say the fastball command – whenever you’re getting ahead of guys put them away or try to get three outs with your last pitches type of stuff – just little things. I mean obviously if it’s not your A-game that day it’s going to be a little tougher. Those are the days where you really have to trust what you’ve learned and be consistent. And especially have fun out there.”
Nobody other than the man himself can say whether he was trusting what he’d learned on Saturday, but it was not a day for Reid-Foley’s A-game, and he almost certainly wasn’t having fun. At least not until John Gibbons somehow elicited a chuckle on the mound before giving him the hook on a tough afternoon.
In the fourth inning, Giancarlo Stanton watched the same slider that struck him out in the first sail out of the zone for ball one. The second pitch, a fastball, fared no better. Reid-Foley tried to sneak a heater over the inside of the plate and paid dearly, as Stanton did what Stanton does. Miguel Andujar would later tag him on a changeup that started middle-middle, stayed there, and finished deep in the left field seats.
Beyond the hits he uncorked a pair of wild pitches, one of which would’ve been ticketed for the fifth row if not for the protective netting behind home plate. He was also undone by some poor play from his teammates, making him an true member of the 2018 Jays rotation. Danny Jansen airmailed a throw to second, allowing the runner to move to third and score on a sacrifice fly. Teoscar Hernandez got a poor read on a loping Stanton fly ball, dinging his pitcher with a single and a run allowed when Stanton would later come around to score. A Devon Travis throwing error would lead to another run later in the inning as well.
There was still some good to take away from the outing. Reid-Foley induced 10 swinging strikes and had some success in the game’s individual battles. He struck Gregorius out his second time up with a fastball that ran up and away. He had decent success working the top of the strike zone against lefties, aside from that one notable exception. The three batters who worked walks – Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Neil Walker – would be retired with ease in their subsequent trips to the plate, including strikeouts for Hicks and Walker. Reid-Foley, for all that might have gone wrong on Saturday, competed.
As for the rest of the season, Reid-Foley isn’t losing sight of the bigger picture. He’s got goals that go beyond fixing one crappy afternoon in New York.
“Just try to get better every day. I mean you can always learn up here, there’s so much more info that you have that you’re able to use. Don’t lose sight of what the actual dream is, of being a long-term big leaguer. And put myself and this organization in the best position coming into next year, finish out this year strong.”
Although it might have been cool for a rookie to see the various legends trotted out in Saturday’s pregame ceremony, it was otherwise a day to forget for the young pitcher. There are going to be better days ahead, where the games are fun and that long-term goal seems to be at his fingertips, if not within his grasp entirely. But there will also be more failures to learn from and struggles to overcome, as baseball tends to dole those out indiscriminately. If history suggests anything, though, it’s that Reid-Foley will keep competing — that he’ll find a way to learn from the present and come back stronger.
Lead Photo © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports