Reynolds healthy, has pep in step with O's

Reynolds healthy, has pep in step with O's

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mark Reynolds, the Orioles' new hulking third baseman with freakish power and what hitting coach Jimmy Presley calls "country strong" arms, was so scrawny growing up that his nickname was "Skeletor."

"I was a late bloomer, I guess," said the 27-year-old Reynolds, who has filled in about 65 pounds into his 6-foot-2 frame since his second year at the University of Virginia. He kept getting a little bigger and a little stronger with the Cavaliers, and after the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Reynolds in the 16th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the ball started to jump off of his wooden bats with a power no one could have predicted.

"It was something I never really had for the longest time," Reynolds said of a swing that has generated 121 home runs and 346 RBIs in his first four seasons at the Major League level, prompting Baltimore to pull the trigger on a trade for him this winter. "I was able to realize what I was able to do, and I never looked back."

He didn't have time to. When third baseman Chad Tracy went down with a right knee injury in May 2007, the Diamondbacks needed a quick fix. The 23-year-old Reynolds was at Double-A, tasked with making the transition from shortstop/utility player to third base. When he got called into the office, he thought he had earned a bus ride to Triple-A. Instead, he got a plane ticket to Denver, where he made his debut at Coors Field on May 16. A stunned Reynolds asked if he needed to bring all of his stuff. Maybe, he reasoned, he would be coming back.

But even on the heels of a disappointing 2010 season, in which he hit .198 and led the National League with 211 strikeouts, there's never been any doubt about issuing Reynolds a one-way ride.

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Known for his towering home runs, which frequently eclipse 400 feet, Reynolds hit .260 with 44 homers and 102 RBIs in 155 games in 2009. Even his power drop last season -- 32 homers and 85 RBIs -- would have led the Orioles in both categories. That he did it at less than 100 percent all year -- he had to fend off a quad issue, a beaning to the head and a hand injury that was so painful he couldn't adjust his cap -- has Baltimore optimistic that Reynolds will continue to get better.

"He played through some injuries last year he would probably be better served not playing through," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "I think just by virtue of that alone, he will have a better year."

Reynolds, who is stubbornly silent when it comes to being hurt, admits he was stupid at times last season. An example of that would be when he was hit in the helmet with a 95 mph fastball, a birthday present that didn't deter him from talking his way into the next day's lineup. Arizona was already well out of contention, and it would have been easy for Reynolds to take a few August games off. But that just isn't Reynolds' way.

"He really, really wants to be the guy that teammates can count on, and when it doesn't go right, it bothers him," said Diamondbacks first-base coach Matt Williams, who worked closely with Reynolds on improving his defense.

"The man is deeply affected by the game. He doesn't always show it. Actually, he very rarely shows it. He's deeply affected by not doing his job."

Which is why after committing 34 errors at third base in 2008, Reynolds realized he couldn't get by on his own defensive ability. If he wanted to be a good third baseman, he needed to put in the work, which translated into daily early work with Williams the following spring. Reynolds would do drills emphasizing positioning and footwork, as well as take ground balls with a new arm angle and approach. Sometimes the pair would spend a half hour on the field and not pick up a glove, simply talking philosophy.

"When you learn at the Major League level, your mistakes cost your team games," said Williams, who encouraged Reynolds to take a more aggressive approach.

"There were things written about how bad his defense was and how he needs to get better if he wants to stay in the big leagues. And all those things wear on you. Everybody reads it. I just let him know: 'I think you're good. I think you're very good, and I'm going to help you get better.'"

The work paid off, as Reynolds nearly cut his errors in half last season compared to 2008, and in Williams' opinion, he was well on the way to being one of the best defenders in the NL before this winter's trade. The Orioles also believe that Reynolds has come a long way, and that their new acquisition will be an above-average defender. Still, that batting average -- a figure Reynolds calls "embarrassing" -- and the strikeouts that go along with it loom large.

"Batting average is a number, it goes up and down," said Reynolds, who worked with former Oriole and special instructor Brady Anderson in making some minor adjustments this offseason. "You can't take away RBIs and home runs and walks. You can't take that stuff away.

"I think that '09 was where I was just starting to realize my potential. Last year, I still put up pretty decent numbers. I look at that as I still hit some home runs and drove in that many runs, and I could barely swing a bat."

Reynolds is well aware of the other way people view last season, as perhaps a precursor of things to come.

"I just think it's stupid for people to say I'm in decline," Reynolds said. "I'm 27. If I was 37, maybe. But I still got a lot of good years left in me."

"I think he needed just a change of scenery," said Presley, who has already noticed that Reynolds has done away with a toe tap that he had incorporated into his batting stance last season. "Sometimes, guys get stale with a situation and a ballpark and an organization. Now he comes to this, and he's got a little pep in his step.

"Is he going to strike out 120 times? No, he's going to strike out more than that. But I think he's going to have a little bit better approach at the plate this year."

When Reynolds does take the inevitable swing-and-miss, Orioles fans won't see him throw his helmet in a fit of rage or stalk back to the dugout after cussing at the umpire. He will speak up when necessary, as he called out his teammates for a lack of effort last season, but Reynolds would prefer to not be the clubhouse voice.

"I definitely care; my comments will reflect that I care after the games," Reynolds said. "As far as being the guy on Twitter or being the guy with the Facebook page or being the guy that always wants to be on 'SportsCenter,' I could care less. I just want to do my job and let the spotlight be on somebody else."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.