CLEVELAND -- Franmil Reyes turned to hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo and tried to make light of a situation that was eating him alive: “I said, ‘VanBo, can you get me a GPS?’ He goes, ‘What do you need a GPS for?’ I said, ‘I’m lost at the plate, bro.’”
It’s typical Reyes to find a way to joke and laugh even during tough times, but the truth is, Cleveland's slugger was nervous and embarrassed. He hit a rut that he had avoided all season and was struggling to get out. But now, after a five-RBI performance in the Indians' 9-1 win over the Angels at Progressive Field, he’s back to feeling like himself at the plate.
“The first couple days when this started, I was normal, because anybody can have a bad day,” Reyes said. “But then I was feeling a little bit weird at the plate, not getting to the ball on time. I was like, ‘Something’s wrong. Something’s going on.’ That’s when everything started, I was feeling nervous.”
Reyes wanted to be a more consistent hitter in 2021. He knew how streaky he'd been since joining the Indians in 2019, and he wanted to prove that his productive stretches could last more than a few weeks. He had one quick cold stretch in May, but has otherwise been able to consistently be the bat the Indians could turn to all season long. That’s why even more panic set in when he realized he wasn’t going to bounce right out of the slump he fell into over the last two-three weeks.
“I don’t want this,” Reyes said. “I want to do something for my team. Any time I’m up late and a situation comes up, I want to do something big for the team. And now, every time I swing and miss, and I look to the dugout and see all my teammates cheering for me, it was kind of embarrassing. It’s hard to explain, because obviously you can’t feel like that. When everybody looks at you like the big boy, and you’re there hitting ground balls to the pitcher and to third base with ugly swings, it was kind of tough.”
Reyes had an 0-for-19 run in the middle of the month, and from Aug. 9 until Wednesday’s game in Minnesota, when he finally showed signs of life with a homer, he proved that he was swinging at the right pitches -- but something was off with his swing. In that span, he logged a .080 average with a .200 slugging percentage against in-zone pitches. From the start of the season until Aug. 9, he posted a .328 average with a .712 slugging percentage on in-zone pitches.
So how did he get himself out of it?
“My hands were kind of close to my helmet,” Reyes said. “Just that kind of thing and trying to find my balance again. In every swing, my footwork was out of balance. Just try to load that back leg a little bit more and get the hands a little bit out. And hitting with a little weight almost on the barrel, just to fire up the hands a little bit more.”
Reyes’ confidence turned around in Minnesota and carried into Friday with a three-run blast in the first inning off Angels starter Jaime Barria. After making outs in his next two at-bats, Reyes knocked in two more runs with a single to left field off Junior Guerra as part of a three-run sixth inning, marking the first time an Indians batter has had multiple five-RBI performances in a single season since José Ramírez and Carlos Santana in 2019. No Cleveland hitter has had more than two of those games in a season since Shin-Soo Choo had three in 2010.
“He's in the middle of the order, he's capable of that,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “He gives you a cushion with that three-run homer. It helps when you get out to a lead and you can maneuver to keep it away from a close game and build on it.”
It’s only been one game, and for most players, they’d need to see more consistency before they believed they were out of the woods. But for Reyes, he’s confident that he no longer needs navigational assistance to find his way at the plate.
“Now, I feel really powerful, stronger. I feel good at the plate,” Reyes said. “Now, if you throw those pitches in the middle [he pauses to flash a large, confident grin], now I feel great.”