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Rojas sparks D-backs with bat, glove in debut

Rookie outfielder logs first RBI, makes nice running catch in LF
@MannyOnMLB
August 13, 2019

DENVER -- When D-backs manager Torey Lovullo looks up at the calendar, he sees that it’s mid-August. So there’s no time to waste if you’re in the thick of a National League Wild Card race. In that spirit, Arizona called up hot-hitting Joshua Rojas, whom they acquired in the deal

DENVER -- When D-backs manager Torey Lovullo looks up at the calendar, he sees that it’s mid-August. So there’s no time to waste if you’re in the thick of a National League Wild Card race.

In that spirit, Arizona called up hot-hitting Joshua Rojas, whom they acquired in the deal that sent Zack Greinke to Houston, from Triple-A Reno and slotted him into the starting lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field. To make room on the roster, outfielder Blake Swihart was designated for assignment.

Box score

Rojas, the club’s No. 29 prospect per MLB Pipeline and an Arizona native, delivered his first two Major League hits, including an RBI single to bring in an insurance run in the seventh inning of an 8-6 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field.

Before the game, Lovullo admitted the move was made to help jumpstart his club’s offense following a quiet three-game series in Los Angeles.

It paid off, at least for one night.

“A lot of people were telling me [Rojas] is that type of player, a player that can add instant offense to a ballclub,” Lovullo said. “ … These are the dog days of the baseball season. When we can add somebody that has those qualities ... it’s going to help you out.”

Arizona remains 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second Wild Card spot, with three other teams -- Brewers, Mets and Phillies -- also ahead of the D-backs, who have been hovering around the .500 mark for much of the season. Range-bound there and unable to break free with a meaningful run of victories, they are 60-59 after Monday’s win.

At times it’s been the bullpen holding Arizona back -- not the case of late, including Monday, when Andrew Chafin, Yoshihisa Hirano and T.J. McFarland pitched out of trouble over three scoreless innings to get the ball to Archie Bradley, who closed out the game with his 14th consecutive scoreless outing.

At other times it’s been the starting pitching. Merrill Kelly started against the Rockies, and he gave up six runs on nine hits over five innings, though four of them came in the first before he settled down to keep the D-backs in the game.

And at other times, it’s been the offense. Following a Dodgers series in which D-backs hitters mustered a total of six runs in three games, it was time to see what Rojas could add.

While Coors Field certainly has something to do with it, Rojas injected some new blood into a lineup that produced 11 hits, including a pair of doubles and home runs from Jake Lamb, Nick Ahmed and Carson Kelly.

While it’s uncertain how much playing time Rojas will receive, he could be key down the stretch if his hot streak continues, particularly with Adam Jones slumping. At Triple-A Reno following the trade, Rojas went 18-for-35 (.514) with three homers. That came on top of an already prolific season while in the Houston organization, in which he had hit 20 homers and 32 steals between Double-A and Triple-A.

Defensively, Rojas, who came up as an infielder but also has some Minor League experience at both corner outfield spots, was thrown into the deep end of the pool: left field in the cavernous Coors Field, one of the most difficult places to run down fly balls or prevent extra bases.

But the 25-year-old played the position with aplomb. He made a great play in the second inning, running down a Nolan Arenado fly ball headed toward the left-center field gap. According to Statcast, the catch probability on the play was 30 percent, making it a four-star catch. Rojas needed to cover 82 feet in 4.8 seconds, and he made the play look relatively easy.

“With the Astros, we worked on [getting good jumps in the outfield] a lot,” Rojas said. “They’re very analytical, and it’s the same thing here. When the ball was hit, I just knew I had to get behind it because it’s going to carry a lot here, and I ended up getting to it.”

The D-backs are trying to get out of neutral, and while it will be an uphill climb to win a bunched-up NL Wild Card race, they have a couple of factors going for them.

Arizona entered Monday with a run differential of plus-67, which should theoretically have resulted in a Pythagorean record of 65-53. And as Bradley put it, the bullpen is performing at the right time of the season.

Meanwhile, Lovullo and company are in “win-now” mode, whatever that may require. Rojas is the latest example, and he made a good first impression.

“It definitely feels good to help get a win,” Rojas said. “That’s my goal, to get wins.”

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.