By John Bohnenkamp
It seems, to Reece Wissinger, as if it takes forever for him to get out on the pitcher’s mound.
He’ll get there, especially if it’s a close game, when he’s needed to quell a rally, or get the final outs.
It’s the closer’s mentality.
It’s something Wissinger, a right-handed reliever out of the Burlington Bees’ bullpen, has embraced, and it shows.
Wissinger has struck out 29 in 13 innings this season, becoming one of the best relievers in the Prospect League.
It’s a role, Bees manager Gary McClure said, that is perfect for Wissinger.
“It’s one thing to have the physical skills,” McClure said. “But he’s got the mentality.”
Opposing hitters are batting .184 against Wissinger, who is 3-0 with one save. He’s walked just two hitters, while allowing nine hits. Wissinger hadn’t given up an earned run until he gave up three in 3 1/3 innings — his longest outing of the year — in a 4-3 loss to the Cape Catfish on Saturday night.
“He throws 93-94, but he’s got something in the last 10 feet — the ball jumps,” McClure said. “It’s more like he throws 96, 97, something like that. It’s like, ‘Here’s the fastball. Hit it.’ He does it day in and day out.
“I hate to say anybody is automatic, but he’s as close as you get. He’s averaging probably over two strikeouts an inning. If you do that, it’s tough to get beat.”
Getting in the game, though, is a countdown for Wissinger that starts as soon as the game begins.
“The game slows down so much,” he said. “It seems like it takes forever for me to go out on the mound. Whenever I get ready, it feels like it takes an hour for me to get out there on the mound.
“I’m usually always moving. I can’t sit still. I’m always jittery. I’m moving back and forth, from the ‘pen to the dugout. I’m always sitting down there. I’ve got a bunch of exercises I can do while I’m sitting there. I watch the game, and keep stretching to keep loose.”
Once Wissinger is in the game, though, the mound feels like home. And in many ways, it is — he’s a graduate of Burlington High School, attends Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, and grew up watching the Bees in Class A Midwest League games at Community Field.
“Oh, I love it,” Wissinger said. “For that last pitch, everyone stands up and yells. It’s the feeling I’ve never had before. Especially doing it here, with the Burlington Bees, it’s amazing.”
He heard one of the loudest crowds of the season during his appearance in Friday’s 12-7 win over Springfield. The Sliders had taken a 7-6 lead in the seventh and had the bases loaded with no outs when Wissinger came into the game. Wissinger struck out the next three hitters on 12 pitches, then the Bees scored six runs in the bottom of the inning for the win in the rain-shortened game.
That concluded a two-game stretch in which Wissinger struck out eight in 2 2/3 innings while allowing just one hit.
“Wissinger is a big-time arm,” McClure said. “He pounds the zone every time out. He’s always ahead of hitters.
“He’s got the perfect mentality for a closer. Doesn’t say a whole lot, doesn’t do a whole lot. When it’s time for him to go down to the bullpen, he heads down there, gets himself ready in a business-like manner, and he goes out and does the job.”
Wissinger struck out 38 in 21 innings for SCC this season, going 2-0 with eight saves and a 0.43 earned run average.
“I saw him pitch at SCC last season a little bit,” McClure said. “I really liked his arm. And then this year, after I knew he was coming, I saw him three or four times. He did what he does now. He’s starting to throw harder. And he just keeps developing, body-wise. He keeps getting bigger and bigger. He’s (6-foot-5) now, he’s got the tools to do what he does. And he’s got the mentality, most of all.”
The summer has been educational for Wissinger. It’s felt like a professional atmosphere, with the travel and the time to work.
“It’s been great. I love it here. It’s better than going to school. Just play baseball,” Wissinger said. “ I’ve surprised myself a lot. I’ve learned a lot about growing up.
“This helps me a lot. This is what pros do every day. You’re on your own. It’s your career, you do what you need.”
It’s the closer’s mentality that Wissinger has learned to enjoy.
“At first, it was nerve-wracking,” he said. “Now I love it. It feels awesome, especially being a hometown kid. It feels awesome going out there and winning a game. There’s nothing better.”
Photo: Burlington Bees reliever Reece Wissinger has struck out 29 batters in 13 innings this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)