"It was just developing an approach of understanding where you are," Hayes said. "There were a lot of other jobs I could have had instead of Minor League Spring Training. It helped to stay strong in my faith and know that things that are supposed to work out will happen. I understand how lucky I am to be here."
• Reds Spring Training info
The difference for Hayes with camp this time, compared to past years, is the opportunity. The Reds have not just a couple of spots in their bullpen open for competition -- they have six.
Hayes, who had a 1.29 ERA in six appearances totaling seven innings entering Monday, gave up his first and only run of spring in Sunday's two-inning appearance vs. the D-backs. He's allowed five hits overall and his three walks all came in one game on March 12 vs. the Mariners.
"No matter if it's three years ago when there were no bullpen spots available or now when there seems to be several, I have to pitch to the best of my ability every day," Hayes said.
Hayes spent more than three straight seasons at Double-A Pensacola from 2012-15, but hung in there and kept working. After four games last season, he got his first promotion to Triple-A Louisville and he posted a 2.95 ERA in 43 games. His 1.52 WHIP was less impressive as he allowed 58 hits and 30 walks over 58 innings, but he helped minimize damage with 56 strikeouts. His 8.69 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio was fourth-best among relievers in the International League.
Hayes insisted he made few refinements to his mechanics or pitch repertoire.
"Nothing major. It was more about having confidence in what I'm doing and believing in myself, 100 percent," he said.
During previous Spring Trainings in big league camp, Hayes did not fritter away his time, even when he lacked any real shot at making the club. He listened and learned from watching the veteran relievers on the team in those years -- like Jonathan Broxton, Manny Parra and Sean Marshall.
"Being able to learn from those guys was a blessing in itself," Hayes said. "I learned their approach, those guys brought a professional approach in here every single day. I learned how to be a professional, the right way to do things, how to handle myself and when to do certain things. I learned to get here early and get things out of the way and not come in late every day. Learning little things like that was big for me. It's like any job, you want to be a professional in any job you do. It's important for young guys to learn."