By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA ? Shane Reynolds never got out of his routine. Every fifth day, he headed to the mound as if it was actually his job.
Eight warmup pitches, then 15 to 20 pitches for real. Take a seat for a few minutes, maybe get a drink of water. Then go back out and do it again.
No one was trying to hit the ball. No one was cheering from the stands. Basically, this was just Reynolds and a guy wearing a catcher's mitt, going through the motions on a high school field.
"It works on you mentally," Reynolds said, "especially when you still feel like you have the ability to pitch in the big leagues."
Those cloistered workouts paid off. Two weeks after being released by the Houston Astros, where he pitched the past decade, Reynolds showed enough in those faux starts to earn a contract with the Atlanta Braves.
In two starts that actually counted, the 35-year-old right-hander hasn't allowed an earned run. Just like that, Reynolds has gone from washed-up pitcher to a key member of a rotation still reeling from the loss of Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood.
On Sunday, Reynolds gave up two hits in 7 1-3 innings to Philadelphia for his first win in nearly a year.
"This guy can flat-out pitch," Braves closer John Smoltz said. "He's a pitcher that can frustrate opponents because they feel like, ?Hey, I can get this guy,' and the next thing they know, they're 0-for-3."
Reynolds, who doesn't throw harder than the mid-80s, has certainly come to the right place. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone doesn't care what numbers pop up on the radar gun; he's more concerned where the ball ends up.
Glavine and Greg Maddux won Cy Young awards following the mantra of location, location, location. John Burkett revitalized his career in Atlanta without setting any speed records. Reynolds, a 19-game winner in 1998 and an All-Star in 2000, hopes the Braves Plan can work for him, too.
"Who cares how hard you can throw if you can hit your spots?" said Reynolds, who pitched five shutout innings in his first Atlanta start. "Sure, I would like to throw 90 mph. But I never have my entire career."
Reynolds had pitched his entire career in the Astros organization, first reaching the majors in 1992. In addition to going 19-8 in ?98, he had a couple of 16-win years and played for four division winners.But degenerating disks in his lower back caused Reynolds to miss the final two months of the 2000 season. He went 14-11 the following year, but the pain persisted. Finally, after making 13 starts last season, his back gave out. Surgery was needed, his season was over. Reynolds returned to the Astros this spring, insisting he was fully recovered. He approached the exhibition games as if he already had a job, not worrying when he gave up 30 hits and nine homers in 23 innings. On March 27, just days before the season opener, Reynolds got the stunning news: He was being cut because the Astros wanted to keep two younger ? and cheaper ? pitchers in their rotation.
"Was I happy about the situation?" Reynolds asked. "Nobody would be, especially the way they did it."