Cardinals’ Reynolds settling into spot-start, pinch-hit, rah-rah role

Mark Reynolds got his first RBI as a Cardinal with a double Thursday against Milwaukee.

Jeff Roberson/AP

ST. LOUIS — Accepting a new, lesser role never figured to be easy for journeyman Mark Reynolds.

The 31-year-old played for five major league teams before this season and could have found a new home where he’d at least compete for a starting corner infield spot. Instead, he chose to be primarily a big bat off the bench in St. Louis for a perennial World Series contender.

"That’s why I signed here," says Reynolds, who agreed to a one-year contract with the Cardinals last December. "It’s a chance to win and a chance to go far into October, and that’s what I want to do."

He made it into the playoffs twice and even hit two postseason home runs for Arizona in 2007. But the Diamondbacks still lost the National League Championship Series in four games to Colorado, and Reynolds’ Orioles failed to make it past the AL Divisional Series in 2012.

One big day at the plate won’t be nearly enough for him to overtake Matt Adams at first base, where Reynolds already has two starts for St. Louis and figures to appear most frequently as long as Matt Carpenter plays at third. But going 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI certainly won’t hurt Reynolds’ odds of finding more at-bats, especially when combined with a solid defensive performance.

"Great day," manager Mike Matheny said of Reynolds’ first Busch Stadium start. "This guy’s got some thunder in his bat, and it’s going to be nice to get him locked in to where we can bring him in in a situation and know the other team’s not real happy about it."

Reynolds admits that’s not exactly what his competitive side wants to hear, especially since he’s grown accustomed to playing nearly every day and getting 400 and sometimes 500 at-bats per season. But he told Joe Lyons of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the transition is a little easier to accept since his ego has diminished with age.

That ego might also have gotten something of a reality check a year ago, when he hit a career-low .196 and failed to reach 400 at-bats or 135 games for the first time since his rookie season in ’07 (mid-May call-up). By the end of a miserable 3-for-24 September, Reynolds lost his role as Milwaukee’s starting third baseman.

But he still finished with 22 home runs, more than anyone wearing a Cardinals uniform in 2014. Reynolds showed St. Louis his power for the first time Thursday, when he smashed a double over the head of center fielder Gerardo Parra in the sixth inning to drive in Matt Holliday and extend the lead to 2-0.

Two innings earlier, Reynolds singled on a soft liner for his first hit as a Cardinal in St. Louis (his third overall with the club), eliciting a nice ovation from the crowd of more than 40,000. The 2004 16th-round draft pick hit .311 as a visitor at Busch Stadium, and he’s always had an admiration for St. Louis fans.

"They’re awesome," Reynolds says. "Being here as a visitor for so many years, it’s a tough place to play, and to have them rooting for you is a good change of pace."

Even before Reynolds’ big day, Matheny emphasized the importance of finding him at-bats, along with another home-run threat off the bench, Randal Grichuk. Naturally, Reynolds prefers to be a starter and have a chance to get into the flow of the game rather than coming in cold to face a hard-throwing reliever, but he’s eager to contribute any way he can.

He understands his new role isn’t limited to just what he can offer at the plate or in the field, where most advanced stats peg him as below average. The laid-back, long-haired Kentucky native also does what he can to make a difference in the dugout or the clubhouse.

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