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Reynolds hopes to back up breakout year

Greg Reynolds can’t lift his right arm much these days, the byproduct of years of throwing batting practice to his son Bryan. Still, family is family. Habits are habits. So when Bryan decided to get back to work over the winter following his breakout rookie season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the elder Reynolds grabbed a bucket and went to work, just like always.

No poring over video for hours. No breaking down reams of data. No mixing things up following a remarkable summer when Reynolds served as one of the few bright spots for a last-place team. It’s not that Reynolds doesn’t see value in having information. He does. It’s just that his swing has always been about feel, one of the few things they have yet to put a metric on.

So father and son went out when they could. Greg gritting his teeth. Bryan standing stone-faced in the box as he sprayed the ball to all fields with the same metronome-like quality that’s made him essentially impervious to the eternal battle between hot and cold that nearly all baseball players fight.

Ask the pathologically unassuming 25-year-old how he’s managed rake at every level of his life — from high school in suburban Nashville to a standout career at Vanderbilt to every rung up the ladder in the minors to his impressive 2019 with the Pirates — and Reynolds shrugs his slender shoulders.

“I don’t know, man,” Reynolds says. “Hitting’s always been my thing.”

His resume almost looks like a typo. The switch-hitting left fielder has never hit below .300 over the course of a full season. Ever. As a freshman at Vanderbilt — the only SEC school to offer him a scholarship after he tore his labrum during his senior year in high school — Reynolds hit .338 to help the Commodores win the 2014 national title. He’s been between .302 and .367 every step of the way, including a .314 mark with Pittsburgh after making his major-league debut last April.

“It’s not supposed to be that easy,” said Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker, who befriended Reynolds shortly after Reynolds arrived in the Pittsburgh system following a 2018 trade with San Francisco that sent franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen to the Giants.

Reynolds just makes it look that way. His demeanor never seems to change regardless off the count, the pitcher or the stakes. First-year manager Derek Shelton credits Reynolds for having a “slow heartbeat.” Don’t mistake that compliment, however, for the idea that the even-keeled Reynolds lacks a pulse.

“He will not give an at bat away,” bench coach Don Kelly said. “He’s fouling balls off. He’s getting two strikes and grinding. Guys will often flail away at stuff. He’s got a plan.”

One that Reynolds seems reluctant to give away, maybe because he doesn’t feel like he’s guarding some sort of secret. He calls his approach to his job “super basic.” That approach didn’t change during the winter just because he finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He hung out with his wife Blair and their dog. He took some BP from his dad. He did what he always does because, as he put it, “I’m just a baseball player.”

Attempts to pry into the psychology major’s psyche are futile. He speaks deliberately, with a sneaky sense of humor that only flashes itself once he feels comfortable. Try to pin him down on his methods or how he is seemingly slump proof — only once last season did he go more than three consecutive games without getting a hit — and Reynolds says simply, “sorry, I got nothing for you.”

It’s not an act.

“He’s never been like, ‘I’m the best hitter ever, watch what I do,’ or ‘This is what I think,'” Tucker said. “It’s ‘Man, I’m just up there fighting.’ And there’s never like a trick that he has that we don’t have. He just does it.”

Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, himself a switch hitter like Reynolds, is prone to streaks both hot and cold. Bell marvels at Reynolds’ quiet confidence, the one that allows him to avoid the latter while frequently flirting with the former.

“He doesn’t have holes in his swing,” Bell said. “Some guys after they’re in the big leagues, the pitchers find out they can’t hit up and in or hit fastballs up in general. With him, he can touch every part of the zone. It really just depends on where he’s looking. Eventually he’s going to get you.”

It’s an inherent relentlessness that Reynolds believes his team can mirror. He chalked Pittsburgh’s miserable second half in which it went 25-48 to plummet to the bottom of the NL Central as a forgettable aberration. The freefall marked the first time he played for a team that struggled to win.

Balancing his personal success with the club’s erratic play was difficult. It’s something he has no plans on repeating in 2020 no matter the modest expectations surrounding his team.

“Losing sucks,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think anybody likes it unless you’re just a loser. But we don’t have any losers on our team. … You can’t judge a whole team based off of a bad month or two. We’ve got the players and we’ve got the talent.”’

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