November 24, 2014

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Indians signed Reynolds for his homers, not worried about his K’s

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Mark Reynolds’ game is hitting home runs. Teams don’t seek him out for his on-base percentage or to take pitches.

His mission as a hitter is straight-forward: If there are runners on base, find a way to get them across the plate, and if one swing will win the game, hack away at the first hittable pitch.

“Thirty-plus homers, drive in some runs, be in the middle of the lineup and try to change the game with one swing,” said Reynolds. “That’s the way it’s been my entire career. I’m not going to slap the ball and run. I’m going to try and drive the ball.”

Reynolds has succeeded in some seasons better than others. In 2009, he hit 44 home runs, one every 13 at-bats; in 2011, he hit 37 homers, one every 14.4 at-bats. These are ratios befitting the best power hitters in the game.

But in 2008, Reynolds went deep 28 times, once every 19 at-bats, and last year his ratio of one homer every 19.9 at-bats produced 23 home runs.

Then again, his workmanship in 2012 was admittedly not his best.

“I got off to a slow start and things began to snowball,” Reynolds said. “Then I got hurt (strained oblique) — you know, a trendy injury — and missed about three weeks. When I came back from that, I played pretty well. Take out April and May and I had a pretty good year.”

Reynolds wasn’t kidding. He hit only two home runs in April and May, bunching 21 homers into the next four months. But you can’t really erase April and May, and that might be one thing the Baltimore Orioles noticed.

When the season ended, the Orioles decided to go in a “different direction,” the euphemism for releasing a player.

Reynolds wasn’t told for awhile that his services were no longer wanted, but he sensed it.

“I knew right after we lost to the Yankees in the playoffs,” he said. “You get that vibe. But it went all the way to the non-tender deadline. With 20 minutes left, I got a call saying they were not going to bring me back. There were never any negotiations.”

But it wasn’t long before the Indians came calling and Reynolds had a job again. General manager Chris Antonetti was looking for a guy like Reynolds.

“We struggled so much against left-handers that getting a right-handed power bat was big,” manager Terry Francona said.

Reynolds was signed as a first baseman, but that concept changed when Antonetti made more acquisitions.

Eventually, Reynolds was nudged off of first by Nick Swisher, making him a DH for the first time in his career.

“I’ve probably been a DH in 10 games,” Reynolds said. “I’m cool with it. But it’s something you have to learn. It takes somewhat of an adjustment, but I think I can handle it.”

Reynolds is the kind of hitter he wants to be and thinks he should be. But there is a downside to being a free swinger.

Sometimes he misses pitches altogether. It’s not news that home runs and strikeouts go together like french fries and heart attacks.

Striking out often used to bother Reynolds, but he got over it.

“It did early in my career,” he said. “That’s all the media harped on. But I’m far past that now. And ever since ’09, my strikeouts have gone down. I stayed under 200 the last two years. I know that’s not really an accomplishment, but it is for me.

“I keep making strides in that area the best I can, but I’m not going to sacrifice hitting the ball in the gap trying to put the ball in play.”

Reynolds has led the American League in strikeouts four times, but as he said, he “only” struck out 196 times in 2011 and 159 times last year.

“I tried to change and my power went down, my slugging went down and I still struck out,” he said. “You’ll see me in the course of a year guess at a pitch. But it might be a 50-foot curveball, and I end up looking stupid.

“I think at the end of the day, I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done in my career. When you try to make changes in who you are, it takes away from who you are.”

On the field, Reynolds is anything but demonstrative, but off the field, it’s a little different.

“I really didn’t know him,” Francona said. “He’s not quite what I expected. He’s a little more outgoing. I’d see him on the field, and he’d be kind of quiet going about his business. But he’s fun to be around.”

Reynolds will be all the more fun for the manager when he’s trotting around the bases.