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Bryan Reynolds Continues Quiet March Toward Rookie History

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Bryan Reynolds (Getty Images)

ANAHEIM — The list of rookies to win a batting title since 1900 is a short one.

Two names long, to be exact: Tony Oliva and Ichiro Suzuki.

Bryan Reynolds, with little notoriety or fanfare, is on pace to join them.

Reynolds, 24, entered Wednesday batting .338, best not only in the National League but all of Major League Baseball.

If the switch-hitting Pirates outfielder can sustain it, he will make history.

No rookie has ever led the majors in hitting. Oliva hit .323 for the Twins to lead the American League in 1964, but Roberto Clemente (.339), Rico Carty (.330) and Hank Aaron (.328) all bettered him in the National League. Ichiro’s .350 batting average for the Mariners in 2001 finished percentage points behind Larry Walker.

Reynolds has no one in front of him, in either league. With 42 games left in the season, he is on pace to accomplish the unprecedented.

"He’s finally getting some recognition,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He’s had to lead the league in hitting to get it.”

Oliva and Ichiro both won Rookie of the Year as batting champions and did so handily. Oliva received 19 of 20 first-place votes in 1964, while Ichiro received 27 of 28 first-place votes in 2001.

Reynolds’ situation is different. Overshadowed by Pete Alonso’s power and Fernando Tatis Jr.'s all-around excellence, Reynolds’ historic rookie pace has received little national notice.

"It would be cool (to win awards), but I’m not gonna put that on myself,” Reynolds said. "I don’t want to start thinking about that. I just want to do what I can. Keep it simple.”

In addition to his batting title chase, Reynolds ranks fourth in the majors in on-base percentage, trailing only Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich.

His .954 OPS ranks eighth in the NL, ahead of Alonso and within striking distance of Tatis. He has been an above-average defender in both outfield corners, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s Defensive Runs Saved, and his four assists from left field are tied for third-most in the National League.

Despite it all, he’s on the outside looking in for NL Rookie of the Year, partly because the Pirates are in last place and partly because his accomplishments lack the highlight-reel nature of Alonso’s or Tatis'.

"It’s a tough league,” Hurdle said. "There have been some young players who have had some fantastic years. He’s been overshadowed in a lot of different ways.

"It’s never been at the top of his list, the notoriety part of it.”

Reynolds hitting—and hitting a lot—is fully in character. A member of the famed Tennessee high school class of 2013 that included Nick Senzel, Dakota Hudson and future top draft picks Jordan Sheffield, Wil Crowe and Brent Rooker, Reynolds went to Vanderbilt and started all three years for the Commodores, including as a freshman on their 2014 national championship team.

He hit .338 as a freshman, .318 as a sophomore and .330 as a junior. After the Giants drafted him in the second round in 2016, he hit .313 in his pro debut after signing and .312 in his first full season the following year.

The Giants traded Reynolds to the Pirates before the 2018 season as part of the deal for Andrew McCutchen. He hit .302 at Double-A Altoona in his Pirates organizational debut despite missing time with a broken hamate bone, then hit .367 in a brief stint with Triple-A Indianapolis this spring before receiving his first callup.

Reynolds went 1-for-2 in his major league debut on April 20. His batting average has remained above .300 for all but two days since.

"I’ve just always taken a lot of pride in hitting,” Reynolds said. "I always worked hard at it with my dad growing up, and then in the offseason just trying to make little tweaks here and there to kind of maximize whatever ability I have.

"I don’t know. I just really like hitting.”

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Reynolds has been dangerous in all situations. He’s batting .359 lefthanded and .281 righthanded. He’s batting .335 at home and .341 on the road. He’s hitting .330 batting second in the order and .324 batting fifth, his two most frequent spots in the lineup. He’s batting .354 when he gets ahead in the count, and even behind in the count, he’s batting . 282.

Just when it looked like he might be slowing down in July (.256/.352/.400), he’s responded with a red-hot start to August (.432/.510/.795).

"It’s incredible. It’s almost comical at this point,” said Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman, a fellow rookie. "It’s like he gets a hit every single time he goes up to the plate. We take it for granted now, but it’s still just like, ‘Wow’ every time.”

Reynolds has done a lot to impress this year. Whether he gets any hardware out of it is out of his control.

What is in his control is how well he keeps hitting. If he keeps going as he has been, his rookie year will go down in the record books.

"I didn’t doubt myself, but it’s definitely cool how it’s all unfolded,” Reynolds said. "I’m just trying to dig my hands in the fence and hold on.”

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