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Reyes has taken new path to hitting success

@AJCassavell
May 15, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Franmil Reyes was a very good hitter during the second half last season. He's been a very good hitter in the first half of this season, too. But the Padres' 23-year-old breakout slugger has taken two completely different paths to his success. A season ago, Reyes' patience

LOS ANGELES -- Franmil Reyes was a very good hitter during the second half last season. He's been a very good hitter in the first half of this season, too.

But the Padres' 23-year-old breakout slugger has taken two completely different paths to his success.

A season ago, Reyes' patience was his calling card. Sure, he had plenty of power. But Reyes often laid off strikes he didn't like, comfortable hitting deep in counts. When Reyes got the pitch he wanted, he destroyed it.

Reyes hasn't been quite so deliberate in 2019. Entering play Wednesday, he’d swung at 57.7 percent of pitches he'd seen -- tied for second among qualifying hitters. On pitches in the strike zone, Reyes is swinging at an 83.2 percent clip, easily the highest mark in the Majors. He hasn't walked since April 18, a span of 83 plate appearances.

Reyes insists nothing changed. He hasn't been asked to swing more. He didn't make a conscious decision to do so.

"I'm just going with all the baseballs they're pitching me," Reyes said. "Most of them are in the zone or close to the zone, and that's why I'm swinging."

Maybe. But according to Statcast, Reyes has seen only a small uptick in pitches in the zone -- from 46.1 percent to 47.8. On the edges, the increase has been similarly negligible. Meanwhile, Reyes' other swing numbers have increased dramatically.

Swing %
2018: 46.4%
2019: 57.7%

First-pitch swing %
2018: 28.8%
2019: 46.5%

Zone swing %
2018: 69.1%
2019: 83.2%

Reyes offered another theory for his aggressiveness. Last season, he had two distinct batting stances -- one for two-strike counts and one for all others. This year, he tried to split the difference between the two, and he found one stance with which he's comfortable. Reyes admits it's probably closer to his two-strike stance.

"I'm just seeing the ball a little bit better and even more when it's in the zone," he said.

The Padres are fine with the results. Reyes is hitting .273/.303/.591 with a 132 wRC+. He's sacrificed a few points in OBP from last season, for a big-time leap in slugging.

But the Padres still think Reyes can make another leap as a hitter -- if he shrinks his strike zone with fewer than two strikes, as he did last season. In that regard, Reyes' elite plate coverage is a bit of a double-edged sword.

On Tuesday night, Reyes found himself in a 1-2 hole against Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers left-hander tried a backdoor slider, and he executed it. Reyes sent it into the left-field seats for his 12th home run.

"There might be four or five hitters in the world who can hit that ball out of the ballpark," manager Andy Green said. "... Franmil knows he's got the ability to hit any pitch. Spin, fastball, any location -- he can hit them all out of the ballpark.

"That breeds aggression. He'll continue to be better and better when he shrinks that down and finds his spots where he can really do damage more consistently."

That's not to say the Padres have explicitly asked Reyes to change his approach. They'd like more walks sprinkled into his game. But they think those will come naturally, as opposing pitchers get scared out of the strike zone. The Padres love the fact that Reyes' extra swings have mostly come on pitches in the strike zone.

"He's swinging aggressively at a lot of strikes," Green said. "He's having good results in the month of May, hitting balls hard, getting hits. Long term, walks are part of the equation. In the short term, you don't worry about it. You just let a guy who's feeling really good hammer baseballs all over the field."

Noteworthy

• Catcher Austin Allen received his second start in three games on Wednesday night. He's filling in for backup catcher Francisco Mejia, who's out with a left knee sprain. Mejia's injury isn't expected to linger, and he took batting practice on Wednesday. But there's a chance Allen, the team's No. 17 prospect, could still have a place on the roster when Mejia returns.

Allen's bat is his calling card, and the Padres simply haven't gotten enough production from their catchers (with a .170/.236/.293 slash line at the position). Allen could easily serve in a third-catcher capacity alongside Mejia and Austin Hedges.

"I'm here for a reason, and I'm here to help the team in any way I can," Allen said. "Whether that's defensively, offensively, I'm willing to do whatever they ask."

• Righty reliever Trey Wingenter will throw one more bullpen session as he recovers from right shoulder inflammation that landed him on the injured list two weeks ago. If Wingenter feels good, he could be activated this weekend.

Manuel Margot started and batted ninth, marking the first time this season the Padres have used anyone other than a pitcher in the No. 9 spot. Green called Margot “a second leadoff man” in that capacity, but the move also allowed Margot to avoid an extra matchup with tricky right-hander Kenta Maeda.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.