Indians outfielder Franmil Reyes rediscovers his right direction: Walk-Off Thoughts

Ryan Lewis
rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com
Cleveland Indians' Franmil Reyes hits an RBI double against the Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020.

Here are 10 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians' 10-5 win over the Tigers, which improved their record to 11-9 at the one-third mark of the regular season.

1. Indians outfielder Franmil Reyes has a goal this season: hit his own face.

Reyes, with as much power potential as about any hitter in the league, got off to a dreadful start to the 2020 season but has recently turned things around. Since Aug. 6, Reyes has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball, going 14-for-26. On Friday night, he was 2-for-4, including a mammoth 462-foot, two-run home run that reached the second rows of shrubbery behind the left-center wall at Comerica Park. It was a prodigious shot, but Reyes has loftier goals. Every time he steps to the plate at Progressive Field, Reyes sees his face on the scoreboard beyond the bleachers in left-center field. Eventually, he says, he's going to hit it.

When asked if that was a goal of his on a Zoom call, Reyes pointed to the camera with both hands and said, "Hey .... That's my goal, this year. Everybody count on that."

2. Reyes' goal each time at the plate isn't to launch a 450-foot home run. His recent resurgence at the plate isn't about sheer power, it's about direction. Reyes has long felt his swing is at its best when he's driving the ball toward right-center, or at least up the middle. He attributed his slow start to going away from that technique. He always has the power within him, but he wasn't utilizing it correctly in order for it to be unlocked.

"The beginning of the season, I was trying to pull basically every ball and I was not understanding at that point my power is right center," Reyes said on a Zoom call before Friday's game. "When I started using it again, I got jammed on some pitches. A lot of check swings that were hits. It gets to the point when I get my timing back and I finally got it. It’s unbelievable."

3. A few hours after delivering that quote, Reyes belted his 462-foot home run to left center and later added a hard-hit single up the middle. Both balls were hit with an exit velocity of more than 111 miles per hour. Joking about hitting his own face at Progressive Field aside, Reyes staying inside of the ball and going up the middle has been his entire focus lately.

"Like I said earlier, everything I'm doing in my practices is not focused on hitting baseballs out of the park, it's just sticking with my plan, which is driving the ball the other way," Reyes said. "Even the inside pitches I'm trying in practice to hit it the other way. It helps me to stay closed and inside of the baseball when I get my pitch in the game."

4. Reyes hit that home run off Tigers starter Ivan Nova, his cousin and a pitcher with whom he's very familiar. Reyes hit a home run — to right center, the exact target — last season off Nova on a cutter, so he was able to eliminate that pitch, knowing it wouldn't be coming his way. Nova started Reyes' first at-bat with a curveball that was fouled off. Nova went back to it two pitches later, and it was crushed.

"I've known my cousin since I was a little kid," Reyes said. "I've been facing him in the offseason this year. When the pandemic started, he stayed here in the U.S., but I always have been facing my cousin. So I know the stuff he has."

5. Reyes again becoming a force in the middle of the lineup is a desperately needed boost for the Indians' struggling offense, as he acts as the bridge between the four-switch hitters and the bottom of the order. It also allows Carlos Santana's extreme walk rate to be put to better use. On Friday night, it was simply a plan coming together. Reyes wasn't the only one trying to stay up the middle.

"It’s incredible. He’s a big man. He’s a strong man," said Tyler Naquin, who went 1-for-5 with a triple and three RBI, about Reyes on a Zoom call. "Actually, me and him were in BP talking about how we were gonna stay in the middle of the field, middle of the field and he was telling me, ‘Stay in that left-center gap,’ and sure enough, he hit a homer to dead center, hit a line drive up the center and I hit a line drive in the opposite-way gap. So, it’s always fun when our plan comes together."

6. Reyes is a prime example of why the Indians have preached patience, even in this shortened, 60-game season that has a heightened sense of urgency.

"I’m not the smartest person in the world. I know that. But that’s why you’re patient, because if you’re not, you miss out on potentially some really good baseball, or some production," Indians manager Terry Francona said on a Zoom call. "Whether it’s pitchers or hitters, you know. That’s why I’ve wrestled with the outfielders. Because you don’t want to get in their way. They’re having a tough enough time. I want to help them. I don’t want them to struggle."

7. The Indians already felt at home at Comerica Park. Now they have some extra space.

In this strange COVID-19 world, and in this odd season Major League Baseball is attempting to pull off, one of the side effects has been teams being spread out during games and not just in the dugout. The Indians have utilized the dugout suites behind home plate to give teams the room they need to be socially distant as much as possible. Other teams have had players not in the game sitting under canopies in the stands.

8. The Tigers chose to extend their dugouts, allowing the Indians to all be together for the first time. It gave the Indians a taste of the kind of energy that comes with all being in the same place, which has been one of the adjustments many teams have had to make.

"The dugouts here, they kind of built them out where the entire team can be in the dugout. That’s the first time we had that all year, and it’s really noticeable," Francona said. "Not that you’ve got guys on top of each other, but everybody’s in the dugout for the first time and you can feel the energy. And I really liked it."

9. The Indians, of course, have been comfortable against the Tigers for some time. Friday's 10-5 win was their 18th consecutive victory over the Tigers, the longest winning streak by the Indians over a single opponent, surpassing a 17-game streak against the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. It also is the second-longest such streak against a single opponent in baseball history since 1969. The dugouts were just a bonus.

"Whether it’s just in the camera well or what not, you can still talk to guys," Naquin said. "I go up to get my glove in the first inning and [Jordan] Luplow has it hiding in the camera well and I’m like, 'Oh, man.' You never want to be late getting out there. All of a sudden, it’s just little jokes like that and stuff and camaraderie and stuff with the team, it’s a lot of fun with that."

10. Indians first baseman Carlos Santana drew two more walks on Friday night, continuing his borderline historic pace. That gave him 26 walks in the first 20 games, the second-most by any hitter in a team's first 20 games of a season since 2000. Only Barry Bonds, with 30 in 2004, had more.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.