'Confident' Rodgers comes off IL, rejoins Rox

May 22nd, 2021

DENVER -- Some 2 1/2 hours before Friday’s game against the D-backs, the Rockies’ Brendan Rodgers took ground balls at second base with enough style to entertain Coors Field’s green plastic seats.

Rodgers’ legs are muscular, but his feet moved light. His hands fielded with a unique sweep, as his throws and arm angles got the ball to second base effectively, but with flair. But the guy catching the throws at second?

Shortstop Trevor Story was watching the show, periodically flashing the easy smile of a guy who has seen so much. Story conserved his energy for the night’s activity, in much the same way he has conserved his emotions during a difficult start to the Rockies' season. And on Friday, Rodgers was light on his feet and Story showed lighthearted calmness. But there was an elephant on the Coors infield.

More on that in a bit.

During Spring Training, Story noted that Rodgers -- whose brief Major League stints the previous two years followed a bad pattern of struggles and injuries -- was letting a confident, fun-loving personality shine in ways he hadn’t before, and progress was happening.

We’ll now see. Rodgers joined the Rockies on Friday after missing their first 44 games with a right hamstring strain he sustained March 13. Healthy now and with a promising preparation stat sheet -- a .348 average in Spring Training and a 7-for-15 line in five Triple-A rehab games over the past week -- Rodgers started at second base in the series opener against Arizona and is expected to receive regular playing time for the first time in his career.

Rodgers went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Rockies' 7-1 victory, but his feet and glove worked during the game. He made two slick plays on grounders in the sixth inning, and his diving stop of Josh Reddick’s grounder in the seventh helped starting pitcher Germán Márquez keep Arizona off the board.

Rodgers' past chances weren’t clean. In 2019, he was brought in for a competition that Ryan McMahon won. Last year was just one of many moves that couldn’t stop Colorado's season from spinning out of control. Rodgers also dealt with right shoulder injuries in both of those seasons.

Now, Rodgers is treated the way teams usually end up treating a player who was selected as early as he was in the 2015 MLB Draft (No. 3 overall).

“We're hoping that, in time, Rodgers takes grasp of a position and holds it via good performance; let’s see what he can do,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Because I feel, mentally and physically, he’s in as good a spot as he’s been in since we’ve seen him in Major League camp in Spring Training and the couple times he’s joined us in the big leagues. He’s now to the point where he’s as confident as he’s ever been in his swing, his health and mentally.”

Before Rodgers' injury, Story was saying the same thing.

“He’s always had swagger,” Story said on March 8. “But he’s a little bit more comfortable in his own shoes. ... When you feel good, then you can be yourself and have fun playing the game. We've all kind of seen what he's capable of. If he can consistently do that, he can be an impact player for us.”

Now, to that elephant.

Almost from the time the Rockies dealt star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals in January, the speculation turned to Story. Colorado is now 15-29, so a Story trade in a move to make the future brighter for Rodgers and other inexperienced Rockies players is looking like a possibility.

Rodgers and Story could be a promising middle-infield combo. But if the future is Story-less, one can envision an infield involving Ryan McMahon or Garrett Hampson at second, McMahon or Josh Fuentes at third and with Rodgers moving to shortstop -- his position coming out of Lake Mary High School (Fla.) and for much of his Minor League career.

Black has been using his recent Zoom sessions with the media to caution that this is a season of learning. That sometimes means suffering, with hope that the Rockies grow into something like the postseason teams of 2017 and '18, perhaps even better.

“All these guys, it’s going to be a great learning year to go from the start of Spring Training to the end of the year, potentially on a Major League roster," Black said. "It’s a long year. Whether Brendan gets 500 at-bats -- because he’s more than a month behind -- I can’t say for sure. But we're going to give him opportunities."

Roster move
The Rockies optioned right-hander Justin Lawrence to Triple-A Albuquerque after Friday's game, and they are expected to activate righty Carlos Estévez from the 10-day IL. Estévez hasn’t pitched in the Majors since April 29 because of a right middle finger strain.