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Inside the Bisons: When baseball got tough, Sean Reid-Foley got tougher

Baseball wasn’t fun anymore for Sean Reid-Foley. And if he’s being completely honest, he didn’t feel like playing the game anymore as his 2017 season unfolded with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

But Reid-Foley kept playing, even as his results looked on the border of disastrous – at least for a pitcher with major league aspirations who is ranked among the top 10 prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

What kept him from packing it in when in some ways it would be so easy, so justifiable, to do so?

“Because I’m employed by the Blue Jays, I’d say. That’s probably the biggest answer,” Reid-Foley said. “And also you don’t ever want to be the guy that walked away from the game because it got tough.”

The game became tough, but it also provided Reid-Foley with an opportunity to explore his own inner strength.

After a year where he had to work extremely hard to get his earned run average down to 5.09, the right-hander from Jacksonville, Fla., has spun a gem of a  Triple-A season with the Buffalo Bisons.

His numbers have him on the verge of a call-up to the big leagues.

“I learned a lot last year,” Reid-Foley said. “Kind of just using it every day. I know how to get back on track if I do get off. It just helps that I’m having a good year after kind of changing a couple of things and just having fun while I’m doing it.”

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He declined to go into specifics about what’s different this year other than his “approach to everything.” But his 7-3 record in 14 starts with the Bisons, including a 4-0 mark in July with a 2.60 ERA, hasn’t appeared by mistake. Reid-Foley’s success this season has been keyed by two major elements – his fastball and his consistency.

“He’s fearless,” Bisons catcher Danny Jansen said. “He’s got a heater that goes up to 97. He hits 95 the whole game, and he’s not afraid to throw off-speed pitches for strikes in any count. He’s just going to attack you. That’s what he’s going to do, and it works. That’s what a guy like him should do and he does it well.”

“We’re seeing the same thing every time which is great – consistent outings of going right after people,” Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said. “We’ve seen the same guy go out there with intensity and purpose and confidence, and we’re seeing good outings every time because of it.”

Consistency, and that wicked fastball, have allowed Reid-Foley to find success as he hit the reset button.

The 22-year-old was selected in the second round, 49th overall, in the 2014 draft.

It took him just two full seasons to reach Double-A, but his debut was rough, going 1-2 in five starts in his first month of 2017 with a 5.65 earned run average.

May wasn’t much better — going 1-1 in five starts with a 5.01 ERA.

Reid-Foley stuck with it, gutting out a forgettable season when it comes to results. He finished last season with a 10-11 mark in 27 starts with a 5.09 ERA.

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Working with pitching coach Vince Horseman in New Hampshire, he was able start 2018 with impressive numbers, going 5-0 in eight starts with a 2.03 ERA. That led to a May call-up to Buffalo. He’s been throwing up great numbers and quickly learned how to adjust to more seasoned hitters.

“You start running into a few older guys in each lineup that kind of have an idea of what they’re doing and they’re looking for one pitch,” Reid-Foley said of pitching in Triple-A. "You could pitch perfect, and they’re looking for it and they hit it, and you just have to learn to tip your cap and move on to the next hitter, the next pitch.”

That mentality has served him well. Heading into Tuesday’s scheduled start for the Bisons against the Gwinnett Braves, he was the team leader in strikeouts (86), wins (seven) and quality starts (nine).

Those eye-popping statistics and the turnaround from last year’s numbers don’t mean all that much to Reid-Foley, though. Not yet.

He says there's still too much work that needs to be done before he can appreciate how far he’s come.

“I wouldn’t really say I’m happy, because you can always get better. There’s always stuff we’re working on every day,” Reid-Foley said. “I mean, we’re human. You can always get better, you can always get worse. So you always have to make sure you’re on top of your game every day no matter what you’re doing.

"The stats would say something different, but I’m not really happy with what I’m doing because I’m still in the minors. So obviously I haven’t met my total goal of being in the big leagues yet. And when that time comes, you’ve got to keep working again. You can’t be settled with where you are.”

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