'They let me be me': Reyes cashing in on Cubs' trust

August 17th, 2022

WASHINGTON --  clapped his hands hard, pointed to the heavens as he stood atop second base and then reached back to tug on the name on the back of his jersey. That last touch was a celebratory gesture started by Cubs teammates Willson Contreras and Christopher Morel earlier this summer.

From the moment Reyes joined the Cubs last week, it did not take the big man long to find a comfort zone with his new surroundings and team. He has certainly looked at ease in the batter's box, where he churned out two more doubles in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Nationals.

Reyes is convinced that the change-of-scenery dynamic is real.

"Of course, yeah," Reyes said. "Because my confidence went from 20 percent to like over 120 percent. The way they treat me here, the way they let me play, they let me be me -- it's special to be here."

When the Cubs claimed Reyes off waivers from Cleveland on Aug. 8, he was thrilled to be reunited with assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington and bench coach Andy Green. They were on the Padres’ staff when Reyes was climbing toward the big leagues with San Diego, helping him grow into a Major League power threat.

Reyes said his comfort with the Cubs extends beyond those two coaches, though. The slugger praised manager David Ross' words and actions, and he was complimentary of how the front office has welcomed him and teammates have embraced him behind the scenes.

After enduring a rough season with the Guardians -- ending in a demotion to Triple-A Columbus and being designated for assignment on Aug. 6 -- Reyes said all those things have added up in a big way for him as he has adjusted to a new organization.

"That's how it's going to make that impact on you," Reyes said. "That's what leads to you getting confidence right away or being shy."

Reyes has recorded a hit in each of his first seven games with the Cubs, hitting .367/.367/.733 with two homers, three doubles, one triple and five RBIs in 30 at-bats. His second-inning double on Wednesday gave him an extra-base hit in five straight games (equaling a career-best streak).

He has looked more like the hitter who put up a .260/.325/.503 slash line from 2018-21, launching 92 homers in 411 games. That equates to roughly a 36-homer pace for a 162-game season. He belted 37 in '19 and 30 in '21. With the Guardians this year, Reyes hit just .213/.254/.350 with nine blasts in 70 games.

Ross is also a big believer in the idea that a change of environment can, at times, be just what a struggling player needs. The manager noted how, during his own playing career, the Reds released him in August 2008. The next few days were a stressful period of time.

"You're sitting at home and going through waivers for 10 days," Ross said. "And not knowing whether your baseball career is over or not. There's a mindset change and a perspective there."

Ross was picked up by the Red Sox, played eight more seasons in the big leagues and was fitted for a pair of World Series rings before it was all said and done.

Reyes is still just 27 years old and has two more seasons of control, if things go well in this second chance with the Cubs. From Chicago's side, it was a no-risk, two-month move to potentially add a big power bat into the mix. From Reyes' side, he is just trying to ride this wave of confidence as far as it takes him.

"It's not like, 'Try to show them,'" Reyes said. "Everybody knows me and knows -- when I'm good -- what I can do. … I just control picking my pitch, doing damage and taking advantage of what the game is giving me. If I'm going to be here for a long time? I don't control that."

Ross has repeatedly described Reyes as an "all-fields hitter in a slugger's body."

In this series alone, the designated hitter collected extra-base hits to all fields, hitting a triple off the wall in right on Monday, planting a homer in the right-center seats Tuesday and pulling both doubles into the left-field corner on Wednesday. Reyes said he was also proud of two more balls in play Tuesday: a deep flyout to center and a single through the hole on the right side.

"Days like that," Reyes said, "I'm always going to take it with a smile and say everything's going to be good."

That said ...

"I like homers," Ross said with a laugh. "Let's be honest."