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DETROIT — We’ve seen the drill many times: Franmil Reyes unleashes a home run, trots around the bases and deploys his now-famous bazooka celebration as he rounds third.
When Reyes unleashed the bazooka on Wednesday though, it came with a surprise sound effect.
“I was smiling because of Javy [B?ez],” said Reyes, of the Tigers’ shortstop. “When I was [doing the] bazooka at third base, Javier B?ez made the sound, like, ‘Shoof!’ That’s why I laughed.”
It’s no secret that Reyes has battled at the plate this year, so perhaps even opponents enjoy a little fun when the likable 26-year-old has a breakthrough. B?ez aside, that extra bounce in Reyes’ step as he crossed home plate could have also signaled a burden lifted.
With a smile across his face that revealed exactly how he felt, the Guardians’ big guy flashed a celebratory sign to the fans behind the visitor’s dugout before disappearing down the steps.
Reyes had just rounded the bases following his third homer in five days, and life was good. Although his seventh long ball of the season ultimately went for naught during the Guardians’ 8-2 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park, there was reason to be excited for the re-emergence of Reyes’ power stroke.
Coming off 30 homers in just 115 games in 2021 and a career-best 37 round-trippers in ’19, Reyes was expected to team up with third baseman Jos? Ram?rez for a powerful 3-4 punch in the Guardians’ lineup. Instead, he kicked off ’22 with a nearly month-long slump that left everyone scratching their heads.
Would he benefit from moving down a bit in the lineup?
Could occasionally posting him in the outfield instead of at designated hitter give him something else to focus on and an opportunity to clear his head?
Reyes tried thinking about it too much, then not at all. He choked up on the bat, spent extra time in the cage and bounced ideas off friends and family members. He even picked the brains of Hall of Fame sluggers David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero Sr., who reached out to the beleaguered batter.
The struggle remained the same, but he stuck with it.
“Nobody says it’s gonna be easy,” he offered Wednesday.
Reyes ended May with a .195 batting average, and June raised it just nine points higher. But as the calendar turned to July, there were hints that the tide was once again beginning to turn in his favor. Much to the Guardians’ delight, the balls that fell were struck hard: Of Reyes’ seven hits in the past seven games, five have gone for extra bases, including a pair of doubles and the aforementioned three homers.
Although July is a small sample size, the .259 average Reyes has produced so far is much more on track with his career average (.254). Are things finally coming together for him?
“I hope so, because that would be really welcome for us,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “We talk all the time about going first to third, doing everything, but he’s that one guy kind of sitting in the middle that can hit it a long way.”
Reyes’ second-inning homer traveled a Statcast-projected 381 feet. While plenty long enough to clear the low wall in right field, it was just the 82nd-farthest long ball of Reyes’ career (for comparison, on June 5, 2018, the slugger walloped a career-best 479-footer against the Braves), suggesting that he’s got some more in the tank.
Or maybe not. Reyes said a valuable chat with teammate Josh Naylor allowed him to see things in a different light. A 381-foot home run counts the same as a 479-foot one, and while the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Reyes certainly has enough strength to muscle plenty of pitches out of the park, maybe all that power isn’t necessary.
For now, anyway.
“I was talking earlier with [Naylor] on the bench right after the homer, and he said, ‘There’s a lot of guys that need to swing hard to hit the ball; you don’t. You just need to swing 75 percent. Have control on all your swings, and you’re gonna be successful,'” Reyes said.
“I really appreciate my brother for that.”
If this is the time of year that things finally fall into place, the Guardians will appreciate it, too.