Rodgers' recent surge has him seeking leadership role

Second baseman puts advice received from former teammate Story into action

July 3rd, 2022

DENVER -- Long before fireworks explosions filled the ears and color dotted the sky, Brendan Rodgers connected with the soundburst of leadership he has always wanted to provide for the Rockies.

Rodgers’ three-run homer off D-backs lefty Dallas Kuechel in the bottom of the first inning ignited an offense that never stopped in an 11-7 victory over the D-backs on Saturday night at sold-out Coors Field.

In his second year as a regular, but long having felt the responsibility of his status as the No. 3 pick out of high school in the 2015 MLB Draft, Rodgers craves any chance to be a talisman in Denver. What is available now is merely a baby step: If the Rockies take Sunday’s series finale, they tie the D-backs for fourth in the National League West, which means they will be out of fifth for the first time since May 10.

“Then we go to L.A. and back to Arizona, so we’ve got some big games coming up,” Rodgers said. “We can make little moves, and that’s huge going into the All-Star break.”

The focus in that statement shows the quiet determination that he learned from older teammates and wants to exude to others.

But Rodgers remembers a day last year when former teammate Trevor Story, who has taken his talents and clubhouse manner to the Red Sox, cautioned him against being the wrong kind of loud.

“It was probably 20 or 30 games after I came back off the injured list,” said Rodgers, who missed the start of last season with a hamstring injury, and pressed early before finding his groove. “I was off to a not-super-hot start. I can get upset. I think I slammed my helmet, or went down in the tunnel and slammed my bat. I don’t remember exactly.

“But Trevor and I walked out together after the game that night, and he was like, ‘Dude, I get that you care. But either wait until after the game or go away from everyone.’ Because eventually they’re going to be looking up to me, and that’s obviously not something that I want to do -- have people thinking it’s OK to throw your stuff.”

The sound of Rodgers’ hard contact is way more pleasing.

“It’s a very compact, short stroke, with power in there,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “It’s everything that Billy [Schmidt, the Rockies’ general manager] envisioned when he drafted him out of high school in Florida. Now it’s crystalizing itself.”

A team can shatter with its own emotion when it has been alone in last place nearly a month, yet still harbor hopes, even if it has given the baseball world every reason to write it off.

In fact, two of the Rockies who showed their ire during last Sunday’s loss in Minnesota to end a 1-5 road trip have made contributions to help the team reach 3-2 on this homestand.

Leadoff man Connor Joe, who reacted more demonstratively than usual after a popout to end a possible rally against the Twins, swatted a three-run fourth-inning triple off Dallas Kuechel on Saturday – after Randal Grichuk doubled and Ryan McMahon and Brian Serven drew bottom-of-the-order walks.

And lefty Austin Gomber, who had a glove-pitching, towel-ripping blow-up after hanging a pitch for a run-scoring double against the Twins, experienced some frustration, but pitched well enough in his first start since June 15 after a stint in the bullpen.

The four-run fifth featured key hits from three of Rodgers’ role models in cool -- Kris Bryant (3-for-5 with an RBI single), Charlie Blackmon (two-run double, his career 278th, third in club history) and C.J. Cron (run-scoring single). Rodgers said he has conversed with them all in trying to find his place and “relay what they helped me with to others.”

The cool school has taken years. Rodgers admits being “pretty bad” in the Minors as well as upon entering the Majors. He has no reason for anger now. Since May 1, he has batted .308 with all eight of his homers and an .871 OPS.

But when he was hitting .178 in April …

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “I was definitely holding back that fire. But I know it’s a long season. I had a lot to look forward to. I didn’t want to add any more pressure to myself.”