T.J. Reeves’ slump hit a little harder than most.
First, it’s come at the beginning of what was supposed to be a breakout sophomore season for Alabama’s left fielder. A 5-for-30 stretch isn’t all that uncommon when hidden in the midst of a season hitting .320 or better; doing so at the beginning of the season forced Reeves to look at the .166 batting average he had entering the weekend.
Second, his failures have come in inopportune game situations: failing to convert with a runner in scoring position twice in a one-run game against UNLV on Feb. 21, plus 0-for-7 in two midweek games.
For a day, those demons were gone.
Reeves’ solo home run in the seventh inning broke a tie with Harvard, catapulting the Crimson Tide to a 6-3 Sunday win and a weekend sweep. At 12-0, it is the second-best start to a season in school history, inching closer to the history made by the 1997 team’s 15-game streak.
Much of the weekend had been a return to form for Reeves. Two hits and a walk on Friday got his average above .200 for the first time since opening day; he was rewarded with a bump up in Saturday’s lineup to the 2-hole, where he produced two more hits and drove in a run.
Yet, there were still moments of inopportune failure. He stranded the bases loaded in the first inning on Friday and again on Sunday, plus hit into a double play later in the Friday game. In the two at-bats before his Sunday home run, he led off the third and fifth innings with groundouts.
Then Reeves got just what he needed to break the skid: an inside fastball from Thomas Pryor (0-1).
“(UA head coach Brad Bohannon) and (assistant coach Jerry Zulli) have been in the cage with me, hammering stay on fastball, lay off curveball,” Reeves said.
Reeves hit that pitch with ease over the left field wall, and drew a bases-loaded walk in the next inning to bring home another run. For the weekend, Reeves hit .416 (5-for-12) with two walks and three RBI, raising his batting average 72 points from .166 to .238.
The comeback could have started on Wednesday, when Reeves was given the day off from a game against Middle Tennessee. Routine rest is a priority of Bohannon’s, plus Reeves’ day off doubled as an opportunity for what Reeves admits was a useful mental reset.
“I would say so. Cheering on my teammates the whole game, analyzing the pitches they were throwing to them and taking a deep breath to get myself together,” he said.
Brock Guffey made sure the late runs were enough to win by throwing the final three innings in perfect fashion. Guffey (2-0) struck out seven of the nine batters he faced, neither of two balls in play he allowed testing an outfielder.
“Probably the biggest compliment I can give (Guffey) is that we just trust him,” Bohannon said. “We know he’s gonna really compete and he’s going to make the other team win the game: he’s not going to hit them, he’s not gonna walk them, he’s not gonna throw the ball right down the middle, he’s not going to get in a bunch of advantageous counts for the hitter.”
Guffey did it all as a left-handed pitcher facing a Harvard (0-3) lineup with seven right-handed hitters in it. The only two lefties he faced were the first two batters he faced, meaning he had to protect a one-run eighth inning lead and a three-run ninth inning lead exclusively against righties.
“If you sit back there and grade out Brock’s pitches, nothing dazzles you, but he’s just an extreme competitor,” Bohannon said. “He did a great job of throwing fastballs in to right-handed hitters today, but he had everything working. He threw a couple of good changeups and threw his breaking ball for a strike.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson