BY JOE RINI
For nearly everyone, trading players like Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson since the end of July has signaled the raising of the white flag on the 2017 postseason hopes for the Mets and the start of a long slow slog through September. However, for infielder Matt Reynolds, it’s an excuse to “Come to the park and work hard,” as he and other call-ups from the Mets minor league system seek to impress the organization during these final weeks of the season. Reynolds and I chatted on the field during batting practice prior to the Mets 6-1 victory over the Reds on September 9 as he discussed the road from his native Oklahoma to Citi Field in addition to his hopes for 2018.
Since his most recent call-up, Reynolds said he is “Trying to learn while playing,” as he also cited the positive experience of going to spring training in recent years and learning from veterans like David Wright and Michael Cuddyer. He said the biggest thing he’s had to learn is to maintain “a positive attitude.” He tries to “take something positive from everything (because baseball is) a failing game…and to learn how to accept it and how to deal with it.”
When I asked Reynolds about the difference between the majors and minors, he immediately cited pitching or as he put it the “quality of the arms,” because you might face someone with big league stuff only every 5-6 days in Triple-A.
Reynolds also had the rare experience of being called up to the Mets during the 2015 postseason to replace the injured Ruben Tejada before he had ever played a regular season game. Recalling that experience with a smile, he said, “It was crazy…I was nervous but I had the time of my life.” He also said it was a blessing and the experience helped him when the Mets called him up in 2016 because “I was able to be around major leaguers and knew what to expect.”
During his time with the Mets, Reynolds has often come off the bench in a pinch hitting role, which he described as a difficult role, especially at first, but credited guys on the team with “molding him to properly pinch hit.” For example, he’s learned to be more aggressive as a pinch hitter. Whereas, Reynolds said his natural tendency might be to be passive and take a strike as a hitter, if a pinch hitter takes a first pitch fastball as a strike, he might not see another fastball for the rest of the at bat.
With Amed Rosario sitting out a few games with a sore thumb last week, Reynolds worked his way into the starting lineup playing at second and third base and put together a 4 for 7 stretch between Saturday and Sunday’s games against the Reds.
Besides his parents, Reynolds also cited the role of his batting coach at the University of Arkansas, Todd Butler, in his getting drafted by the Mets in the second round of the 2012 draft. He described struggling during his first two years of college ball, especially during his sophomore year when his average reached .400 before nose-diving to .230. From a physical and mental perspective, Butler helped him “to maximize my abilities…to use my full potential.”
Preparation for 2018 will begin shortly after 2017 ends for Reynolds. While he said his conditioning has always been good because “I’ve always been scared not to be ready,” he’ll be working to improve all phases of his game – hitting, defense, and speed – to win a spot on Mets in spring training. His versatility in field will help him since he can play every infield position and the outfield. After a season where a veteran Mets team underachieved, perhaps Reynolds will be part of a youthful resurgence for the Amazins in 2018.
In other news, West Nyack’s Patrick Kivlehan appeared in three of the four games the Reds played at Citi Field over the weekend, including a start on September 9 when the Rockland native went 0 for 3 with a walk.