With two major-league stints already under his belt, Reggie McClain knows what pitching against the best hitters in the world entails.
So in the 28-year-old righthander’s mind, even with the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, that approach hasn’t changed.
"In my head, I’m facing major-league hitters every night," McClain, a reliever who has dominated for the RailRiders this season, told Newsday on Friday. "Even though I’m in Triple-A, I’ve put into my head that I’m facing a major-league hitter every night and I really need to execute my pitches.
"And that’s all I’ve really thought of this year. I need to have my stuff good enough to get big-leaguers out because everyone wants to make it to The Show and doesn’t want to stay in Triple-A all year."
After stints with the Mariners in 2019 and the Phillies last season, McClain, a 13th-round draft pick in 2016, encountered his share of struggles. He had an ERA of 6.00 in 21 innings during 14 games with Seattle, including two starts, and followed up with an ERA of 5.06 in 5 1/3 innings in five games with Philadelphia.
Since being claimed by Scranton on Dec. 10, 2020, McClain has found tremendous success. Entering Friday, he had gone 5-1 with a 0.55 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 33 innings in 19 games, relying predominantly on a sinker in the range of 92 to 94 mph and mixing in a slider and cutter.
McClain believes what he learned from his experiences in the majors has helped propel him toward the best stretch of his career.
"I’ve learned that I need to be a complete pitcher," he said. "Mentally, preparation-wise, stuff-wise. Just putting it all together is what I lacked. I think all the dots are starting to connect this year and now I feel like the best version of myself even though I’ve made it to the major leagues already. This year is the best version of me as a pitcher."
McClain touched on the other keys to his newfound success this season.
"I think my repertoire now and learning how to pitch," he said. "Especially my slider and cutter. Those pitches have been huge for me. And ultimately just confidence. Just a lot of belief in myself and staying hungry and on the attack every time I get on the mound."
On Wednesday night, McClain contributed two innings in a combined no-hitter for the RailRiders.
"It was great," he said. "Me and [pitcher] Stephen Ridings didn’t even realize we had a no-hitter when we entered the game . . . When I realized it, we were only three outs away."
In terms of when he believes he might receive another opportunity in the majors, McClain’s primary focus is continuing to perform at an elite level.
"That’s out of my control, but I can just control the pitcher that I am," he said. "And that’s just being the best pitcher that I can on a day-to-day basis. And wherever that gets me, whether it’s 10 years in the big leagues or maybe not even there, I owe it to myself to be the best pitcher I can be."