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Published: Thursday, 5/9/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Reynolds slugs past all expectations

DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The only thing the Cleveland Indians seemed guaranteed to get in return for their one-year, $6 million investment in Mark Reynolds was a plethora of strikeouts.

He led the National League in Ks for three straight seasons (2008-10) before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he immediately led the American League in strikeouts.

Would there be some long balls? Sure.

Would there be strikeouts? That went without saying.

The Tribe opens a three-game series in Detroit today, and with them they will bring Reynolds, not so much the strikeout king, but rather one of the most valuable hitters in baseball.

It should be interesting. In the first two games, the Tigers will throw Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who have combined for 104 strikeouts in 13 starts, an average of eight per game.

But Reynolds, who hit his league-leading 11th home run Thursday as the Tribe completed an umpire-aided, controversial sweep of Oakland at home, should not be easy pickings, as advertised.

We’re talking about a guy who has 1,153 career strikeouts, well more than 200 per season, on average, with a high of 223 — the single-season major league record — with Arizona in 2009, when he also hit 44 homers and drove in 102 runs.

It has been the latter type of production, not the former, making headlines so far this season. Reynolds is batting .291 with 11 homers and 29 RBI, but with just 32 strikeouts in 110 at-bats. His on-base (.367) and slugging (.645) percentages are up there in rare air.

“I’m just getting a couple balls to fall here and there,” said Reynolds, a career .237 hitter.

Well, yes, but a lot of those balls are falling a considerable distance from home plate.

His most talked-about home run came earlier this week after he had been hit in the head by a pitch from Oakland’s Jarrod Parker during his first at-bat. On his next plate appearance, Reynolds crushed a Parker fastball so far to left field that only the back wall of the bleachers slowed it down.

Reynolds stood for a second and stared at Parker — and he later called it “the sweetest thing” that he had ever done in baseball.

The first baseman’s 31-game statistical sampling has been even sweeter for the Indians. Reynolds’ combined on-base and slugging percentages is a robust 1.012, compared to a career .812 mark.

“The quality of Mark’s at-bats has been tremendous from Day One,” Tribe manager Terry Francona told reporters earlier this week. “The more good swings he takes, the more he’s going to run into doing some damage.”

It is a far cry from his last three seasons, which saw his batting averages dip to .198, .221, and .221. After an oblique injury helped reduce Reynolds’ power numbers to 23 homers and 73 RBIs last season, the Orioles decided against picking up his option for 2013.

“I wanted to go back to Baltimore,” Reynolds said. “Never got an offer.”

But he got a healthy one from the Indians and signed in mid-December. He has been a different type of hitter since, going deeper into counts and especially by cutting back on his swing and going with the pitch when behind in the count.

“I’m trying to pick my spots,” he said of taking home-run swings. “I’m trying to work for good at-bats and be a tough out. I want to say I’m growing up as a hitter.”

The timing has been perfect for the Tribe.

With the help of a mind-boggling ruling by umpires, even with the benefit of replay, on Wednesday night, the Indians have won 10 of their last 11 and jumped near the top of the AL Central standings.

Cleveland fans have been slow to warm to their team as a total of just 42,590 showed up for the four games against Oakland. Almost that many should be on hand for each of this weekend’s three games at Comerica Park.

Detroit fans are used to power hitting without a lot of strikeouts from guys like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Mark Reynolds will do his best to fit in.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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