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Reed thriving in demanding dual role

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A.J. Reed got a no decision after throwing 8.1 innings of one-run ball on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) A.J. Reed got a no decision after throwing 8.1 innings of one-run ball on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
A.J. Reed has a lot on his plate.

Just a sophomore, Reed has batted third or fourth in every Kentucky game this season. And oh yeah, he starts on the mound every Friday night in the nation's best conference.

"It's not easy, but I try to deal with it the best that I can," Reed said.

It's safe to say Reed is handling it all just fine.

Through 25 games, Reed is leading the Wildcats in home runs (six), runs batted in (28) and slugging percentage (.611). In six starts on the mound, Reed has an earned-run average of 2.57.

"I just kind of try to separate," Reed said. "When I'm pitching up there on the mound, that's all I think about. When I'm at the plate, that's what I'm thinking about."

On Friday night against Georgia, he had to put that balancing act to the test once again and once again he succeeded. Reed tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball, allowing just six hits and striking out four. After retiring the first batter of the ninth inning on his 113th pitch, Reed gave way to closer Trevor Gott. For the first time this season and first since his first chance of 2012, Gott blew the save opportunity, costing Reed his third victory of the season.

Fortunately for the Cats, Gott prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the ninth and 10th innings. In the bottom of the 10th, UK (21-5, 6-2 SEC) won its fourth game in a row when Max Kuhn walked with the bases loaded against Georgia closer Jared Walsh. It was the second time in less than a week the Cats won in walk-off fashion and the third they had won in a game they scored four runs or fewer.

"You have to win games like that because you're going to play them," head coach Gary Henderson said. "You're going to play low-scoring games."

A workhorse like Reed gives UK a good chance at winning more of those kinds of games.

With Reed's pitch count sitting at 97 through seven innings, Henderson opted to send the 6-foot-4, 245-pound lefthander out for another inning. And with a lefty due up for Georgia in the top of the ninth, Henderson asked Reed for one more out. He delivered.

"The debate's probably going on up there in the press box," Henderson said of his decision to leave Reed in the game. "There wasn't too much debate going on in the dugout."

Reed has a theory about why Henderson has so much faith in him, why his coach has sent him out for another inning with his pitch count hovering around triple digits each of his last two starts.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the regional game from last year," Reed said. "I went nine innings in relief, so that kind of proved to him that I could do a good job throwing in the later innings."

In that game against Kent State, Reed battled through cramps and exhaustion to pitch nine frames in extra innings, allowing just two runs. Even though it came in a losing effort, Reed believes he earned his coach's trust.

"I just have a lot of faith in him, as I do a lot of our kids," Henderson said. "We've got good kids, good players."

It's that same faith that leads Henderson to pencil Reed in the No. 3 spot even when he's on the mound. Other coaches might opt to allow other two-way players to focus solely on pitching, but Henderson believes Reed can handle both.

The statistics prove him right.

Entering Friday, Reed was batting 13-for-26 (.500) with 12 RBI, two home runs, a triple and a double in games he's pitched. Those gaudy numbers have come in spite of a realization on Reed's part of how vital his work on the mound is.

"I don't want to say in the games that I pitch I'm more focused on pitching, because I'm not, but it's more important at the time," Reed said.

Reed singled and reached on a hit by pitch in five plate appearances on Friday.

Pretty much the only skill missing from Reed's repertoire is speed. He's one of just two UK regulars without a stolen base. That doesn't mean he's not going to lay it all on the line on the base paths, even when he's pitching.

"I'm not very fast anyway, so I'm not going to be legging out anything in the hole or something like that," Reed said. "But I'm going to give it my all all the time. I'm going to be giving a hundred percent, but it may not be very fast."

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