In early June, left-handed reliever Matt Reynolds was pitching for an independent team in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, striking out players clinging to their baseball dreams.
By the end of July he was with the Giants at AT&T Park, where he delighted the hometown fans by striking out the reigning National League MVP, Bryce Harper.
At age 31, even Reynolds is surprised by how quickly his fortunes have changed.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting any of this,” he said. “It’s kind of been an interesting journey.”
After pitching in five games for the Triple-A River Cats in July, Reynolds joined the Giants for their recent series against the Washington Nationals. In two appearances, he faced two of Washington’s best left-handed hitters, Harper and Ben Revere.
In the seventh inning of a 4-1 loss to the Nationals on Friday, Reynolds got Revere to pop up and walked Harper. In the fifth inning of a 5-3 win Saturday, he struck out Harper after giving up a single to Revere.
Manager Bruce Bochy said Reynolds was a useful weapon against left-handed hitters and did “a nice job” as a middle-inning reliever. But in the aftermath of the non-waiver trade deadline, the Giants optioned Reynolds back to Sacramento on Tuesday.
While Reynolds and Bochy were pleased with the left-hander’s Giants debut, he’s been at that level before. It just took him awhile to get back.
After a little more than three seasons with the Colorado Rockies, who drafted him in the 20th round in 2007, Reynolds made 30 relief appearances in 2013 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, compiling a 1.98 ERA. At the end of the season, though, he suffered an arm injury and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Reynolds missed the 2014 season and appeared in just 18 games in 2015, then was released by Arizona.
With no offers from major-league teams but believing he still could pitch, Reynolds joined the Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League.
“I either had to play there or not play at all. So, kind of an easy choice,” he said. “I could either be pouty and upset that I was not where I wanted to be, or I could go out there and have fun ... and try to get back to (the big leagues).”
Reynolds was dominant in 22 relief innings with the Barnstormers, striking out 32 and walking only four. On June 24, he signed a minor-league contract with the Giants and reported to Double-A Richmond. After just eight appearances, he was promoted to Sacramento, where he stayed just two weeks before getting the call.
“I like Sacramento. It’s a great city,” Reynolds said. “It’s a good ballpark, and the fans are into it.”
Reynolds gave up one hit and no runs in 5 1/3 innings with the River Cats before being promoted to replace left-hander Josh Osich, who went on the disabled list.
Reynolds said he no longer has the velocity he once did, but he compensates by being a more cerebral pitcher, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each hitter instead of “blindly throwing.”
“One of the benefits of having some struggles last year is that I got to re-evaluate how I pitched,” he said.
His new approach worked against Harper on Saturday. Reynolds used his four-seam fastball to put two called strikes on the Nationals star, then got him to swing early at an 80-mph knuckle curve.
Reynolds said joining the first-place Giants during a playoff race was an opportunity he’d been dreaming of since the Diamondbacks released him. He just never thought it would come so soon.
“Honestly, it’s crazy,” he said. “Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I was kind of far away (from the big leagues), so to be back here is fun. ... I look forward to helping this team win.”
Bee staff writer Matt Kawahara contributed to this report