Mark Reynolds knows who he is. The Cleveland Indians corner infielder is a slugger in the three-true-outcomes mode. His walk rate is maybe a little short of a purist’s TTO, but the long balls and strikeouts are certainly there. Reynolds has left the yard 193 times in 3,140 at bats; in three seasons, he has gone down by way of the K over 200 times.
The 29-year-old former Oriole and Diamondback is working to lower his strikeout rate and improve his RBI numbers. He’s making strides in both areas, and is doing so without a loss of power. So far this season he has 12 home runs and a .515 SLG.
Reynolds talked about his evolution as a hitter — and what it feels like to hit a baseball more than 400 feet — when the Indians visited Fenway Park this past weekend.
Reynolds on early-career adjustments: “Early on [in the minor leagues], I had some pop, but I was still a smaller guy. I was speedy and played shortstop. I was pretty much straight-pull, because I was so little I had to cheat to get the wood bat through the zone. Since I signed, in 2004, I’ve probably grown an inch and put on 40 pounds.
“I’ve changed my timing. I used to have a leg kick, now I have a toe tap. I did that in the minor leagues. In 2004 and 2005, I was more leg kick and tried to hit it the best I could. Late in 2005, I started tinkering with it, with Tony Dello, my hitting coach in South Bend. In 2006, I took it into games. That’s when I had my breakout year in the minors.
“It was all about timing, rhythm and getting my foot down early. My improved success was a combination of that and getting more at bats — more experience — as well as getting bigger.
“I stopped seeing a lot of fastballs after my first month in the big leagues. I came up and hit .400 in May as a 23-year-old, and hit some homers. Then guys started figuring out they could spin me some stuff and get me out. That was an adjustment — a two- or three-year adjustment — and I’m still not fully a contact hitter, per se. But I like to think my approach has gotten better through the years.”
On his walk and strikeout rates: “My strikeout rate is coming down a little bit [from 29.6% in 2012 to 26.4% so far this year]. Maybe it hasn’t been a big change, but a point or two here or there is huge. If I can put more balls in play, I can hit for a better average and maybe hit a couple more home runs.
“I think your walk rate and strikeout rate are related. If you look at guys who don’t strike out a lot, they’re usually contact hitters who put the ball in play early in counts. My approach right now is to look for a pitch I can hit 400 feet. If it’s a hanging slider or a fastball middle, middle-in, I’m going let it rip.
“For the most part, I think I see so many pitches because I’m waiting for that one pitch. If I get two strikes on me, that’s when I shorten up a little and just try to put it in play. Would I like to have a higher walk rate? Of course. Maybe I’m going to learn a few things hitting behind Carlos [Santana] all year — the guy walks a lot. Buy yeah, having a higher walk rate would help out a lot of things, from my on-base to my runs scored. At the same time, if I’m more patient, that will take away from my aggressiveness.
“I’ve been trying to make more contact. It’s been pounded into my head by the media, and everyone, since I set the record. I was striking out at a record pace. It’s in my head a lot. Sometimes, I’m shortening up with two strikes and hitting a ground ball to second. Back in the day, I’d always try to pull it and hit it out of the yard. Sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn‘t.
“If there’s a guy on second, I’m going to try to move him over with two strikes. But if there are two out and nobody on, I’m going to try to go deep. That’s one reason I strike out. But one reason I’ve been hitting so well with runners on base is that I’m playing to the situation of the game. Driving in runs an important part of my job.”
On expectations and approach: “The teams I’ve played for have basically told me to play my game. Whether they’ve meant it or not, they’ve all told me they don’t want me to change my approach and aggressive nature. Especially this organization. [General manager] Chris [Antonetti] and Tito [manager Terry Francona] — especially Tito — have made that clear. He’s said I’m in the lineup to do damage — to drive in runs and make **** happen — not hit grounders. Knowing I have his confidence is huge, and I think that has translated pretty well so far.
“If you’re constantly in the cage, working on different mechanics, that stuff just gets in your head. It makes you think the coaches want you to change and don’t have confidence in you. Here, they’re saying, ‘Hey kid, let it rip.’ That’s probably the best thing a hitting coach has ever told me.
“When I’m struggling, I swing under a lot of pitches. I don’t know if that’s because of my natural uppercut or if maybe I’m just late trying to catch up to something. When I’m going good, I have my toe tap right, my foot is down and I’m able to recognize pitches early. That’s when I’m doing my best hitting. But overall, I would say my swing is more of a controlled train wreck. I just get it down and let it eat.”
On hitting bombs: “There’s maybe a little vibration in the hands when you hit the ball, but when I square it up perfectly, I feel nothing. The ball I hit off [Jarrod] Parker a couple weeks ago, there was no feeling whatsoever. But that wasn’t the longest one I’ve hit. I hit one off Brad Lidge a few years ago that went 491 feet. It was a hanging slider, to right-center, in Arizona. I still remember it like it was yesterday. The next day, one of the umpires told me it looked like a tee shot, like a high draw. He said the ball got small, real quick. That one felt good.”