It ended too soon, but Tigers’ Victor Reyes takes solace in saving a season on the brink

Detroit News

Detroit — Victor Reyes walked slowly up the stairs from the clubhouse to the dugout, his head shrouded in a hoodie, hands tucked in the kangaroo pouch, eyes downcast. Rough morning, for sure.

Just as he had caught fire at the plate, just as he was getting consistent starts and producing like he’d never had before in the big leagues, Reyes’ season ended Saturday night when his right groin tightened while tracking a lineout from Salvador Perez in the fourth inning.

“Mucho,” Reyes said when asked about the frustration of it all.

“I feel bad for Victor,” manager AJ Hinch said after announcing that Reyes was placed on the injured list and done for the season. “He really played well. He was starting to push into more and more playing time. But he still capped a nice comeback year for himself.”

That he did. After not playing winter ball for the first time in his professional career, showing up late to spring training (Visa and COVID-19 issues) and then enduring a horrendous first four months, Reyes turned everything around.

More: Mission incomplete: Tigers’ Ilitch, Avila poised to make a ‘big push’ this offseason

He ended up hitting .258 with a .416 slugging percentage, with a career-high five home runs and a .701 OPS — numbers that were unimaginable as late as July 31.

“His swing got better, his contact got better and he started hitting the ball harder,” Hinch said. “I looked up at the scoreboard the other day and his OPS was creeping into the .700s and his batting average was up. If I would have told you that a couple of months ago, you would’ve thought it’d take quite a grind to get there.

“But he did it and he earned a lot of respect in this clubhouse.”

On July 31, Reyes was hitting .183 and slugging .298 with a .509 OPS. He’d already been sent down to Toledo once. But after July 31, he hit .333 and slugged .533 with an .891 OPS. He was 8 for 13 in his last four games before the injury.

“Basically, what helped me was making adjustments every single day,” Reyes said through Tigers bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “And when I got sent down, it helped me a lot to get my rhythm. And then when I got called back up, I had trust in myself again and I knew it was going to be OK.”

Reyes said he locked into the scouting reports a little deeper, figuring out how pitchers were trying to get him out. He also altered his batting stance, standing more upright at the plate and taking some of the extra movement out of his swing.

“As soon as I got more trust in myself and more confident, it helped me perform better,” he said. “I am going to try to take the same mindset into the offseason and take it into next spring training.”

He already knows, as well as he’s played down the stretch, as well as he played in stretches the previous two seasons, he will be guaranteed nothing going into the 2022 season. He could, quite honestly, find himself in a battle with prospects Riley Greene and Daz Cameron for one of the final roster spots.

“Of course,” Reyes said. “It happens every year. I’ve got to be ready. I’ve got to fight for a job every time I go to spring training.”

To that end, Reyes hopes he will be able to play at least a month of winter ball, preferably in Venezuela.

“I learned that the makeup of the player is pretty good,” Hinch said of Reyes. “He grinds, he’s focused and he tries to contribute in any way he can. The hits started coming at the end of the year and I applaud him for his toughness to get through a difficult year. His mentality really shined through at the end.

“It’s a tough loss for us, but he recognized a lot of positive things.”

To replace Reyes on the roster for the final week of the season, the Tigers called up infielder Zack Short.

“It’s been a continuous shuttle for him (between Toledo and Detroit),” Hinch said. “Why not end the season with one more trip back?”

Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: White Sox

►First pitch: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park, Detroit

►TV/radio: BSD, MLBN/ 97.1.

Scouting report

►LHP Dallas Keuchel (8-9, 5.18), White Sox: He might be pitching for a spot on the playoff roster and it’s not been going great for him. Including his start against the Tigers on Tuesday (11 hits in five innings), he’s allowed 17 hits and six walks in 11 innings, though only four runs. But that’s a wobbly tightrope to be walking.

►RHP Matt Manning (4-6, 5.73), Tigers: The raw stats won’t reflect it, but the progress he’s shown over his 16 big-league starts is remarkable. What seemed like a risk at the time, bringing him to the majors after he’d struggled in Triple-A, turned out to be a stroke of genius. Instead of defeating him, it accelerated his growth. Says something, too, that his best two starts were against playoff contenders Milwaukee and Toronto.

— Chris McCosky

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