- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SARASOTA, Fla. | Kevin McMullan, now the associate head coach at the University of Virginia, got a telephone call after the 2005 minor league season from one of his former players.

Mark Reynolds, who had just finished his first full pro season with South Bend, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Low-A Midwest League affiliate, told McMullan his team had won the league title and he hit 19 home runs a little more than a year after being drafted by Arizona.

But Reynolds, who was traded by Arizona to the Baltimore Orioles in December, told McMullan he was most proud of the fact that more than half of his homers that year were hit to the opposite field. That would have seemed almost impossible before McMullan, then the hitting coach, and head coach Brian O'Connor arrived at Virginia after the 2003 season.

Reynolds, a former travel teammate of Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with the Tidewater Mets, was a dead-pull hitter his first two seasons in college. But when McMullan arrived in Charlottesville, the coach began a process of trying to have Reynolds use more of the field.

“He did not have the toolbox to make the adjustments,” McMullan said in a phone interview. “We made a plan. He had some habits. We just changed those routines.”

“It helped me understand what to do with a certain pitch and it translated into my first [full] year in the minor leagues,” said Reynolds, 27, sitting by his locker during spring training. “That was a big step for me. I did it right away, as far as buying into what he was doing.”

Last year, Reynolds hit .198 with 32 homers and 85 RBI for Arizona. His 30th homer was an opposite-field shot against San Diego as he became just the third Arizona player to hit at least 30 homers twice, joining Luis Gonzalez and former Oriole Steve Finley. Reynolds, in 2009, hit .260 with a career-high 44 homers, 24 steals and 102 RBI.

Then there are the strikeouts. Reynolds, from Virginia Beach, fanned a major league-record 223 times in 2009. In his big league career, which began in 2007 with Arizona, Reynolds has fanned 767 times in 1,982 at-bats with 121 homers and an average of .242.

“I am never going to be the guy that strikes out 50 times a year,” Reynolds said. “I do what I can to minimize how many there are. There is no set limit I want to stay under. Even when I struck out yesterday [at Bradenton in a spring game], I saw six or seven pitches. Those at-bats at least get more pitches on the pitcher’s total. When you first come up [in the majors], you are nervous and try to jump on the first pitch. Now, I am not afraid to go strike one, strike two if I have to.”

In the one year he played for O'Connor, Reynolds was the shortstop for the Cavs while Zimmerman played third.

“The biggest thing with Mark is the homers and how much he strikes out,” Zimmerman said before a spring training game in Viera, Fla. “He can hit the ball the other way. If he wanted to hit 20 homers and hit .300, he could do it. But he understands what his role is. So he tries to hit more homers.”

And what about his defense?

“He was good at short. He was not as big as he is now. He had a strong arm. He was a leader in the middle of the field. He was above average at shortstop,” said O’Connor, who has built Virginia into one of the top programs in the country.

Reynolds, who expects to have family members at Camden Yards for the Baltimore home opener April 4 against Detroit, said he enjoyed his time out West but is also glad to be back on the East Coast. He said he had few ties to the Orioles before he was traded for pitchers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.

Reynolds had worked out near his Arizona home with Brady Anderson even before the trade. Anderson, who played for the Orioles from 1988 to 2001, was an instructor in spring training with the Orioles this year.

“I got a lot stronger and in a lot better shape,” Reynolds said of working with Anderson. “He pounds in my head every day in the cage with new techniques and timing. I am seeing the ball a lot better. I think he prepared me pretty well in terms of being strong and in shape and ready to go.”

Reynolds, drafted in the 16th round in 2004 by Arizona, saw 4.31 pitches per at-bat last season, the most of any regular third baseman.

“I am more mature. I am just trying to get better at-bats and be more consistent. If I get 200 hits down the left field line, I don’t care,” he said.

But thanks to a lot of work with McMullan in college, Reynolds could make Orioles fans happy with hits - and homers - to all parts of Camden Yards.

“He can impact the game defensively if he is not hitting. I think he is in a great frame of mind. He is just 27,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “If he does what he did last year, he would lead us in three or four categories.”