The Mets series was a bit of a homecoming for utility man Matt Reynolds. The 27-year-old third baseman/shortstop combo played a total of 115 games for the Mets from 2016 to 2017.
“It was definitely weird walking into the stadium on the visitor’s side, since I’ve been here for parts of three years,” Reynolds said. “It’s nice having (hitting coach) Kevin (Long) here because we talk about some of good times we had over there. Having someone who kind of went through what we went through over there together is nice to have.”
Long has been big for the lineup, providing his expertise to get all of the players in the Nationals lineup into their specific, individual routines and honing what they want to do with each at-bat.
“Working with Kevin, we have worked together the past few years,” Reynolds said. “We’ve kind of developed a routine that we stick to. It’s just the everyday maintenance of trying to keep the shortest swing that we can possibly get and just going up there and having good at-bats whenever the at-bat may come.”
And that would be all well and good if you were an everyday player getting four or five at-bats every single game. With Reynolds, and backup players like him, you don’t get into every game. So a lot of his timing and practice comes in the cages underneath the stadium before and during games.
“Inconsistent A-B’s is probably one of the toughest things to deal with in baseball, but that’s what we get paid to do,” Reynolds acknowledged. “You just got to focus on going up there and having good quality at-bats.”
Reynolds has appeared in seven games this season for the Nats. On Monday night, Reynolds arrived in a key moment in the Nats’ six-run eighth-inning rally. Pedro Severino had just singled to load the bases off of Mets reliever AJ Ramos. Reynolds sensed the Nats had a chance to make it a huge inning.
“You really zone in on what you’re looking for,” Reynolds said. “You don’t want to expand the zone when they are struggling. Because if you expand the zone a little bit and swing at a pitch that they want you to swing at, that may get them back locked in and kind of get all the weight off their shoulders. You definitely want to lock in on your approach and make sure you focus on and swing at good pitches.”
Reynolds worked the count to 3-0 as he watched Ramos struggle to find the plate with his curveball, slider and cutter. Eventually, Ramos could not find the strike zone even with his fastball. Reynolds let it go and earned a four-pitch walk that scored another run, making it 6-4 Mets. Wilmer Difo followed with the game-tying two-run single.
The Nats eventually won the game, 8-6. It marked their biggest comeback since a 2016 game at Cincinnati.
“It was obviously a big point in the game,” Reynolds said. “As a team we have been scuffling a little bit, haven’t been playing our best. To get a nice comeback team win right there where I feel like everyone contributed in some way, that was huge for the team.”
I asked Reynolds what it was like to live through the Nats’ early struggles, during which they won only three of 12. Did manager Davey Martinez lose his cool and start yelling, throwing chairs to get them motivated to turn it around?
“It’s great. He’s not a big meeting guy, not a huge rah-rah guy,” Reynolds said. “He wants you to just show up play hard, believe in yourself and get out there and get the job done. At this level, that’s what you need, because we are all professionals here, we’re all grown men. We should be held accountable for the work that we put in. He does a good job of letting us go out there and play.”
Reynolds said the slow start was no time for the club to panic, and that was the message Martinez kept sending to his players. The infielder said he has been in clubhouses where the manager goes crazy to try to get his players going.
“You see (meltdowns), but it’s April,” Reynolds said. “It’s so early. Obviously, the Mets are off to a great start. We’ve been kind of off to a sluggish to start. Who knows? Maybe that win (Monday) night will get us on a roll and end up going 12-2. Baseball can change so quickly.
“A game like (Monday) night, where probably no one expected us to win once we were down 6-1 and we fight and claw back to tie it at 6, that can get a team rolling. We can go on a tear real quick.”
Reynolds said the clubhouse was still focused on the job at hand despite the immediate circumstances and their recent struggles.
“Definitely. This is one of the most unpredictable sports,” Reynolds said. “So to stop trying if you are down 6-1 in the sixth inning, that’s a recipe for failure. So, you go to play until the final three outs are made. That’s the motto that Davey has set with us. He wants us to never stop fighting. That’s what we did (Monday) night.”
Reynolds took us into the clubhouse and detailed how he got ready for the opportunity of his number being called to go in as a pinch-hitter.
“Obviously, (bench coach) Chip (Hale) will let us know the pitcher’s spot is coming up, and they are thinking about using a pinch-hitter,” Reynolds said. “So we have an idea of when we are going to be used. We will come up into the cage and get loose, hit off the machine, just to get ready for that game-like experience.”
The weather was frigid the first two games of the series: 44 degrees at first pitch, and it felt like 37 degrees on the field. Reynolds said preparing in better conditions in the cage helps him concentrate on his approach and not have to worry about the surroundings before he gets out there.
“Honestly, we are going into the game a little warmer than the actual starters because we are up here, we are running, getting stretched out, so we are loose going into the game,” Reynolds said. “It’s a tough job to do, but the more that you face the pitchers, the more you are familiar with how they are trying to attack you, the better you are going to be.”
It some respects, it is even more impressive when a player who gets only a handful of at-bats finds a way to get on base by being patient enough to draw a walk in such a high-leverage situation.
Ironically, it was the first at-bat Reynolds had ever had against Ramos, his teammate last season with the Mets. Reynolds was able to draw a walk, earn a key RBI, and keep the rally alive in the benchmark 8-6 comeback win for the Nats to begin this long road trip.