Reyes feels he’s found his place

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 30, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It would be a simple request for most major leaguers. Please name, in order, the teams you have played for.

Dennys Reyes paused for a second.

“Hold on,’’ he said. “I can do this.’’

In a high-pitched voice that does not seem to fit his 6-foot-3-inch, 275-pound frame, the lefthander listed them, the names tumbling out like a well-rehearsed song.

“Dodgers, Reds, Rockies, Rangers, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Royals, Padres, Twins, and Cardinals.’’

And now the Red Sox. It took a few years, but the man known around baseball as “The Big Sweat’’ finally has made his way to Boston.

Reyes, 33, was named to the roster Monday, surviving a training camp competition to earn a spot in the bullpen. It was a popular choice among the veteran players.

“He’s the classic lefty bullpen guy,’’ said Adrian Gonzalez, who faced Reyes in the National League the last two years. “He moves the ball around, he knows how to pitch, and he’s not afraid of the situation. Everybody in baseball knows him and what he can do.’’

Reyes has held lefthanded hitters to a .236 batting average over the course of his career and in the last five seasons, his 2.63 earned run average is the lowest among all lefty relievers. His job is to come in late in the game and get one tough hitter to set up the rest of the bullpen.

That could be Robinson Cano of the Yankees or Orioles star Nick Markakis. The challenge this weekend may be Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

“That’s the best, the best feeling,’’ said Reyes. “When you come in and the game is on the line and you come in to get one guy out. You know if you fail, if you don’t do your job, the game is going to change.

“It takes a lot of thinking. You get used to it with experience. You try and do a lot of work with the video and try to learn the guys, try and know their weak spots. You know how to attack them.’’

Reyes throws a two-seam fastball inside to lefties and runs a cut fastball away from them.

“He has kept the ball out of the air, for the most part,’’ said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He has a lot of movement with his pitches. It’s what we hoped to see.’’

Famed Dodgers scout Mike Brito, the man who discovered Fernando Valenzuela, signed Reyes to his first contract in 1993. The lefthander was 16 then, much more svelte and a starting pitcher.

Reyes is the son of Juan Reyes, a former Mexican League star. The two played together briefly for the Mexico City Reds, teenaged Dennys on the mound and Juan at first base.

It was Juan who put his son on the path to the big leagues, asking Dennys to try throwing lefthanded when he was 7 years old. Two years earlier, an uncle was swinging Dennys by his arms and accidentally dislocated his right shoulder. It left him almost unable to throw.

“My father got me a lefthander’s glove and taught me how to throw,’’ Reyes said. “We used to work on it all the time.’’

Reyes has an odd reminder of those times. Because his right shoulder never healed properly, it is higher than his left.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,’’ Reyes said. “If I was righthanded, maybe I don’t make it.’’

Reyes made his debut with the Dodgers in 1997 and enters this season having pitched in 669 games, 14th among active players and just 25 shy of being in the top 100 all time.

But for all the teams and towns, Reyes has pitched in only four postseason games, two with the Twins in 2006 and two for the Cardinals in 2009.

The goal now is to pitch in the World Series. Reyes intended to sign with the Phillies in December, but a $1.1 million deal fell though. Reyes said he and his agent, Oscar Suarez, had issues with some clauses in the contract. Reports at the time suggested he failed his physical.

Reyes signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox just a few days before the start of spring training. The major league contract he agreed to Saturday will pay him $900,000.

“Last year, I ended up being hurt at the end of the season,’’ said Reyes. “I think I signed a minor league deal because of that. I had a strained muscle in my forearm, but I think I showed them that I was healthy.

“I wanted to play for a contender. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to come here first and try and make this team.’’

Reyes did not arrive at camp until Feb. 26 because of a visa issue that delayed his travel from Mexico. But he quickly settled in with the Sox.

“They have unbelievable talent,’’ he said. “It seems like everybody gets along together. Tito, the pitching coach, the whole coaching staff, they’ve been great to me and everybody else the way I see it. They give you everything to play baseball. This is a great organization to be part of and I’m really proud to be here.’’

Reyes has always wanted to play in Boston or New York, to experience the intensity of baseball in the Northeast. He had an opportunity to join the Yankees in 2005 when he was released by the Padres but elected to stay home and rehab an injury.

“It paid off for me because I had my best season with the Twins in 2006,’’ said Reyes, recalling the 0.89 ERA he posted. “But in the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to pitch in New York or Boston.

“I hear a lot of stuff about Boston. I’ve got a lot of friends in baseball. They tell me Boston has the greatest fans.’’

The Big Sweat could be embraced in Boston. From Luis Tiant and George Scott to Rich Garces and Mo Vaughn, Red Sox fans have always had a warm spot for plus-sized players.

“I hope it’s fun,’’ Reyes said. “Everywhere I go, I try and have fun.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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