It was spring training and Mark Reynolds was new to the American League and to Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The new third baseman with the curly hair and the record for most strikeouts in a season had to make a huge adjustment.
Reynolds, who was raised in Virginia Beach and went to UVA with the Nationals Ryan Zimmerman, had played for Arizona. Though he was an Easterner, his appearance and casual way of speaking reminded observers of a Westerner.
Showalter wanted a power hitter who played decently at third base, and he knew of Reynolds reputation for strikeouts.
Would he accept 190 strikeouts if Reynolds could hit 35 home runs?
One hundred ninety? Im in, Showalter said.
In the previous three seasons, Reynolds had led the National League in strikeoutsthe first major league player to be punched out 200 times. Three times was enough for Reynolds.
In 2009, he had 223 strikeouts, and its a record he wouldnt mind shedding, he said last March.
If someone comes along and strikes out 230, theyre not going to want to talk to me so much, Reynolds said. I dont want to put a number on it, a ratio. I just want to get it down a little. Show an improvement from the past.
Reynolds did show some improvement-satisfying both himself and his new manager. He struck out 196 times, but batted .221 with 37 home runs and 86 RBIs.
He joined Jim Thome as the only players to lead both leagues in strikeouts, and is the first Oriole to lead the AL. He did have some company in the 200 strikeout category. Cincinnatis Drew Stubbs struck out 205 times to lead the National League last season.
Baseball has become much more forgiving of strikeouts. In 1992, neither league strikeout leader fanned more than 154 times,
I remember when 100 strikeouts a year was a real no-no, Showalter said in March. Were going to try to help him. He wants to help himself, too, but sometimes its better to strike out than hit into a double play.
Reynolds had a rough adjustment to the American League. In mid-May, he had just three home runs and was batting .174. His play at third base was worse.
He ended up making 26 errors in 114 games at third, but after the Orioles acquired Chris Davis at the end of July, Reynolds was moved to first.
In the last two months of the season, playing mostly at first, Reynolds hit 15 of his 37 home runs, and was more relaxed.
I thought he played a real good first base, a major league scout said. He showed range, good footwork and an ability to dig out low throws from the infielders.
The adjustment wasnt surprising to this scout, who has watched him play in both leagues.
He needed a time or two around the league to get comfortable.
I thought he made good progress the second half of the season, he said.
It helped when Reynolds was moved from third to first.
It took the pressure off him. Third base is not an easy position to play. Third base is not a reaction position, the scout said.
Reynolds was obtained from the Diamondbacks for David Hernandez, who pitched effectively in Arizonas bullpen. Under club control for two more seasons, Reynolds would be coveted if Dan Duquette made him available.
He has good value from what I see, the scout said. I can overlook the strikeouts.
I think in his case, you would be a little more accepting of strikeouts than you would be with a guy who can hit 15-18 home runs.
Reynolds slowed down a bit after the Angels Ervin Santana hit him in the head in mid-September. It came after he homered, and the next day, Reynolds was adamant that Santana was throwing at him. He missed three games, and perhaps could have hit 40 home runs.
This guys got 35-40 home run power and can hit 40-45 on a consistent basis. Is he going to strike out? An out is an out is an out, the scout said.
Besides not offering arbitration to Vladimir Guerrero this week, the Orioles also didnt offer it to Cesar Izturis. A Showalter favorite, Izturis was considered an outside possibility to coach third base, but hed like to continue his playing career.
Izturis is 31, and played a creditable shortstop in 2009 and 2010 for the Orioles. Last winter, the club wanted some more punch and traded for J.J. Hardy, who played well at short and hit 30 home runs.
Izturis was re-signed in a utility role, but injuries limited him to just 18 games, and Robert Andino supplanted him by more than capably filling in for Brian Roberts the final 4 months of the season.