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Blackmon proves to be capable No. 3 hitter

Arenado returns to face Cubs, but injuries, suspensions keep lineup in flux
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

PITTSBURGH -- It's not clear if the experiment with Charlie Blackmon batting third in the Rockies' order will continue when they face the Cubs on Friday night, with the lineup in flux. But Blackmon has shown he can handle it if the club needs it.

Wednesday's 10-2 loss to the Pirates marked the end of regular No. 3 hitter Nolan Arenado's suspension for his involvement in last Wednesday's fight vs. the Padres. In five games taking Arenado's spot, Blackmon -- the usual leadoff hitter -- has batted .316 (6-for-19) with three home runs and seven RBIs.

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PITTSBURGH -- It's not clear if the experiment with Charlie Blackmon batting third in the Rockies' order will continue when they face the Cubs on Friday night, with the lineup in flux. But Blackmon has shown he can handle it if the club needs it.

Wednesday's 10-2 loss to the Pirates marked the end of regular No. 3 hitter Nolan Arenado's suspension for his involvement in last Wednesday's fight vs. the Padres. In five games taking Arenado's spot, Blackmon -- the usual leadoff hitter -- has batted .316 (6-for-19) with three home runs and seven RBIs.

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But Arenado's return still may not vault Blackmon back to the top of the order, however. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, a middle-of-the-order bat, strained his right hamstring while making a diving grab against Pirates, and the Rockies may want Blackmon in a run-producing spot if Gonzalez is unavailable.

Further compromising the order is the four-game suspension hanging over outfielder Gerardo Parra for his role in the same fight that led to Arenado's ban. Parra is appealing, but whatever suspension he receives will likely begin with Arenado's return.

Although Blackmon has functioned well at No. 3, there is no quarrel with his work at No. 1 -- a .282 average with a .391 on-base percentage and a .641 slugging percentage powered by four homers and three doubles. He has been a consistent threat and run producer since taking over at the leadoff spot in 2014.

Blackmon's thought? He's a pretty good No. 3 hitter if his team is in a bind, as has been the case recently.

"It probably is easier to have one lineup that is comfortable, and not go back and forth day to day," Blackmon said. "Get consistent and let guys get comfortable.

"But when it's out of necessity, it's easier to move. It's like, 'This is how it's going to be. Deal with it.' That gives you a little more commitment. Once guys get healthy, we'll figure out what works best and stick with that -- most of the time."

Colorado experimented with Blackmon batting third in early Spring Training, but the club abandoned that when Gonzalez re-signed and alleviated the need to move Blackmon for run production purposes.

At some point, manager Bud Black would love to have a consistent lineup, most likely with Blackmon at the top, but that hasn't happened this season. Blackmon missed five of the first 18 games with back spasms and right quadriceps tightness. His injuries, and Arenado's suspension -- which dropped Blackmon to third -- paved the way for DJ LeMahieu to move from No. 2 to the top spot, where he responded by hitting .286 with a .395 OBP, three home runs and four doubles.

The Rockies entered Wednesday leading the National League in home runs, and Chris Iannetta's third-inning solo shot off Pirates starter Chad Kuhl was the team's 27th. But Colorado was last in batting average and on-base percentage, and Wednesday left those numbers at .214 and .285, respectively. Even though the record is above water at 11-9, the offense in general has languished, and lineup instability could be one of the reasons.

"In a perfect world, that's what you want, but a lot of times that doesn't happen," Black said. "Guys are going to be banged up, or guys are going to miss time. We don't have Nolan, we didn't have Charlie. Ideally you want your guys.

"Collectively as a group, you will see our numbers improve."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon