They keep giving Reed Reilly saves, but really, he’s not a stereotypical closer. He’s just a reliable reliever.
The Cal Poly sophomore pitcher picked up his seventh save of the season in a 5-4 Big West Conference-opening victory over UC Davis on Thursday, finishing off the last three innings in relief of starter Joey Wagman.
Reilly came on with no one out and the tying run on first and pitched three perfect innings. It was the fourth time this season he’s closed out a game pitching three or more.
“A lot closers hate going multiple innings,” Reilly said, “but I still don’t really see myself as a closer.
“I almost like going multiple innings more. … The longer I go into a game, the more I can learn and adapt to what the hitters are doing. It’s almost an advantage.”
Reilly struck out three, wrapping up Wagman’s 20th career victory for the No. 23 Mustangs (18-6), who need to keep winning to justify their spot in the national rankings.
UC Davis (10-13) trailed 4-0 after the third inning but got back into the game with two-run rallies in the fourth and seventh innings.
In order, a double by Steven Patterson, a run-scoring triple by Nick Lynch and an RBI single by Cameron Olson chased Wagman to lead off the seventh.
The senior righthander gave up four runs on nine hits, while striking out six and walking one. He improved to 6-1 on the season, but the game was very much in doubt when he left.
Although, Cal Poly never really saw it that way. The Mustangs are used to Reilly coming through in any situation.
“Every time he comes up there,” sophomore outfielder Jordan Ellis said, “confidence is at its highest. There’s no doubt that we’re going to win. It’s the best feeling.”
Of Reilly’s 15 appearances this season, only five have been an inning or less. Two of his first three appearances were three-inning saves, and he pitched 3 2⁄3 innings to pick up a save in the first game of a doubleheader at Kansas State earlier this month.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound draft-eligible sophomore was a starter at San Juan Capistrano JSerra Catholic High, and takes a starter’s approach to the mound with him in relief outings.
“He’s been great for us all year,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “He’s a very big part of our success, and you can run him out there when the game can go in one direction or the other. He’s really put out the fire in a lot of previous games and finished.”
Offensively, Nick Torres extended his hitting streak to 18 games, the fourth longest in program history, and two recent additions to the lineup also came through for the Mustangs.
Ellis, who’s found a home platooning with freshman John Schuknecht in left field after a season-ending injury to sophomore Alex Michaels, was 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI double to up his season batting average to .375.
Making his third start of the season at first base, Tommy Pluschkell had three hits, including an RBI double, in place of injured regular Tim Wise.
It was just the sixth start of the season for Ellis, who found himself competing with Michaels, Schuknecht and Matt Russell for playing time in left at the start of the season.
Russell came on as a defensive replacement in the ninth and recorded two of Reilly’s three clinching outs on fly balls, but Ellis’ performance as the No. 2 hitter was not easily forgotten.
“He’s hit there a time or two before,” Lee said. “And he’s kind of shown signs of what he did tonight.
It was good, and he played solid defense in left and gave us some contributions offensively.”
A left-hander, Ellis is playing only against right-handed starters like UC Davis’ Harry Stanwyky, who picked up the loss after allowing five runs on eight hits in 52⁄3 innings.
His older brother Landon is a senior student at UC Davis, but Ellis said there are no rivalry bragging rights on the line in the three-game series with the Aggies.
He has enough rivals for playing time in his own dugout to get his juices flowing.
“There was a lot of competition” at left, Ellis said, “just solid guy after guy after guy. I was just staying ready, and when my opportunity came, I just made the best of it and did everything I could.”