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COLLEGE BASEBALL

Draft Disappoints Reyes

June 07, 2002|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is a tale of two mysteries--one solved, the other unsolved.

The one solved involves the right elbow of USC junior pitcher Anthony Reyes. A shooting sensation suddenly became an obstacle at the start of the season. That pain has long since disappeared without surgery, and he has continued to be the ace of the Trojan staff.

What hasn't been solved is why Reyes fell precipitously in baseball's first-year player draft Tuesday. Once projected as a first-round pick, the right-hander expected an early call even with lingering questions about the elbow. Instead, he watched round after round go by, finally becoming the 380th player taken, a 13th-round selection by the Detroit Tigers.

As he prepares for the most important start of the season tonight against Stanford in a best-of-three super-regional series, Reyes has a question of his own. What happened?

"It's disappointing," he says quietly. "I'm just going to go out there and keep proving that I'm healthy. That's all I can do."

It hasn't been an easy season for the former Whittier California High star. He has pitched well with a 4-1 record and a 3.26 earned-run average but hasn't reached the preseason All-American expectations. He also carries the burden of extending USC's vaunted pitching lineage that includes Mark Prior, Barry Zito, Seth Etherton, Randy Flores and Brian Cooper, all of whom are or have appeared in the major leagues.

And then there was Tuesday. The disappointment was felt throughout the coaching staff.

"I wasn't certain that he'd go in the first round," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "But I didn't think he'd last long. It can only be a concern on the part of the pro people about his arm in spite of the fact that he's not in pain and he hasn't pitched in pain."

Reyes hasn't been dominant, but he has had a measurable impact since rejoining the Trojan rotation in March.

"I don't think it's any secret that once he got into the mix, we go 25-9 in our next 34 games because of the effect he has on who our pitchers are the next two days," said assistant coach Dave Lawn, who works with the pitchers.

It figures that if USC (37-22) is to advance to its third consecutive College World Series and 18th overall, the sturdy, 6-foot-2 right-hander needs a strong outing in tonight's start against Stanford ace Jeremy Guthrie.

Guthrie presents a major challenge for the Trojans. One of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award given to the nation's top player, the Cardinal right-hander is 11-1 with a 2.34 earned-run average and five complete games.

On Tuesday, Guthrie was the Cleveland Indians' first-round pick and the 22nd player taken overall.

Reyes said he has nothing personal at stake other than to help USC win.

But Gillespie and Lawn figure that if Reyes performs well this weekend and in the College World Series, he could raise his bargaining power in negotiations with the Tigers. Reyes, who is only three courses away from getting his bachelor's degree in sociology, said he is considering a return to USC.

"I'm sure it means a lot to him," Lawn said of tonight's start. "If you think of yourself in a certain way and then you're drafted in a certain round not according to what you thought and then you're matched up against a guy who's the Pac-10 pitcher of the year, you've got to love this game."

Reyes would rather shift the focus to the Trojans, who won the Pacific 10 Conference and are still considered an underdog against a Stanford team that is traditionally tough at home.

"This team has battled," he said. "It wasn't like last year where we just kind of rolled along. Everyone started coming around. We just took off."

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