December 22, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
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Indians: Mark Reynolds paying off early

CLEVELAND — Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn stole most of the thunder, but Mark Reynolds might wind up being the Indians’ biggest offseason acquisition.

Reynolds

Cleveland hasn’t had a power hitter such as Reynolds since the days of a healthy Travis Hafner from 2004-06 — i.e. a slugger capable of hitting 30 home runs per season, while driving in well over 100 runs.

And through the first 10 games, Reynolds, who signed a one-year, $6 million free-agent contract with the Indians this offseason, has shown what a valuable asset that can be. His five home runs — one of them, a game winner — ranked second in the American League through Sunday, while his 13 RBIs were tied for third. Both totals lead the Indians.

“I’m just enjoying it while it lasts,” Reynolds said of his fast start, which is in contrast to last season, when the slugger didn’t hit his first homer until May 1.

Reynolds, 29, has always been a hot-and-cold hitter. When he’s on, balls will leave the park off his bat on a regular basis. He’s hit 30-plus homers in three of his five full seasons in the majors. When he’s off, the lifetime .235 hitter strikes out in bunches, leading the league in the category over four of those five years.

Reynolds and the Indians are willing to live with that.

“The more you worry about something, the more likely it’s going to happen,” Reynolds said. “When I have two strikes, I try to make something happen. If I strike out, it’s not the end of the world.”

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Reynolds originally arrived as the projected starter at first base, but when the Indians acquired Bourn, the plan changed. With an outfield already stacked with Bourn (center), Michael Brantley (left) and Drew Stubbs, Swisher, the better defender, moved to first, and Reynolds was the semi-regular designated hitter.

“I feel like I’m more in the game (at first base),” said Reynolds, who has already made three starts at first and committed two errors. “DH-ing is tough. It feels like you’re pinch hitting four times a game. But when I’m at DH, I’m going to embrace that role. When I get the opportunity to play first base, I’m going to embrace that role.

“I’m still going to go up and try to drive in runs. My role is to get big hits and drive in runs. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

He’s brought back a new twist to his offensive repertoire this season, stealing a base a little over a week into the regular season. Reynolds recorded just one stolen base last year, and produced single-digit totals the past three years after stealing 24 bases in 2009 with Arizona.

“I was thinking, ‘what’s the last thing people are going to expect?’” he said of his theft Saturday against the White Sox. “I kind of surprised them. I’m not going to do that all the time, but I’ll pick my spots. I’ve got bragging rights, now. I’m tied with Mikey Bourn for the team lead.”

The Indians will settle for a team home run and RBI title, even if a strikeout belt accompanies the accomplishments.

Tito Boston

Terry Francona is trying his best to downplay a visit from the Boston Red Sox for a three-game series at Progressive Field that begins Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. — the first time he will manage against a club he guided from 2004-2011.

Francona’s history as manager of the Red Sox has been well documented, and included two World Series titles in 2004 and ’07 and a tumultuous dismissal.

“To be honest, I’m an Indian,” Francona said. “I’m aware of the questions and everything, and I have a lot of great memories (from Boston), but I don’t think it’s fair to the players. This game is hard enough to play. They don’t need to be worrying about me having nostalgia week. They just need to try to beat them.”

Indians veteran Jason Giambi is still predicting a different atmosphere for the series.

“He’s a huge piece of that winning puzzle over there, of course there’s going to be a lot of hoopla,” Giambi said. “He’s the guy that got them over the hump.

“Anytime the Yankees or Red Sox come to town, there’s a different feeling, because tradition has seen them to be the best teams over the years. This will just add to it.”

Wounded Wahoos

  • Catcher Carlos Santana (left thumb bruise) is expected to start in the series opener with the Red Sox after being out of the lineup for four games. He pinch hit in the ninth inning during Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Chicago.
  • Second baseman Jason Kipnis (right elbow soreness) is not expected to play Tuesday. He has missed the last two games with the ailment, batting .125 with two RBIs in eight games on the season.
  • Left-hander Scott Kazmir (right rig cage strain) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment for Triple-A Columbus Monday. If all goes well, Kazmir, who is eligible to leave the disabled list Wednesday, will make his season debut for the Indians on Sunday in Houston.

Down a man

The Indians transferred reliever Matt Albers from the paternity list to the family medical emergency list. A player is allowed to remain on the list for three to seven days.

The right-hander, who is 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in four games, left the team Friday.

Minor detail

With its depth already being tested at the position, Cleveland acquired catcher Chris Wallace from the Astros for Double-A Akron left-hander Eric Berger.

Wallace, 24, had appeared in one game for Triple-A Oklahoma City this season and will report to Akron. A 16th-round draft pick in 2010, Wallace hit .254 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 78 games at the Triple-A and Double-A levels for Houston last year.

Berger, 26, had posted a 4.50 ERA in two relief appearances for the Aeros this season. He was an eighth-round draft pick of Cleveland’s in 2008, posting a career 21-25 record and 3.91 ERA in 135 games (78 starts) on the minor-league level.

Tuesday night, 7:05, STO/WTAM 1100-AM/WMMS 100.7-FM. Jimenez (0-1, 6.97) vs. Doubront (0-0, 5.40).

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.