DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon spent nearly a month searching for the swing and pitch recognition that made him the National League batting champion last year. He felt close, but not quite there, and settled for a jam-shot single here, a move-the-runner fly ball there.On Tuesday night, he
DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon spent nearly a month searching for the swing and pitch recognition that made him the National League batting champion last year. He felt close, but not quite there, and settled for a jam-shot single here, a move-the-runner fly ball there.
On Tuesday night, he joined what looks like a Rockies breakout. Blackmon whacked a first-inning home run -- his first in 42 at-bats -- to straightaway center field and added two more hits in his team's fifth victory in six games, an 8-1 win over the Giants at Coors Field.
"It's really good to continue to try and win games, play team baseball, even if you're not feeling real awesome at the plate or on the mound," said Blackmon, who has 15 homers -- nine of which occurred during a hot April -- and a .275 batting average.
The victory -- which also included Antonio Senzatela's seven scoreless, three-hit innings in his first start of the season and Nolan Arenado's National League-leading 22nd homer -- put the Rockies back at .500 (43-43). Could it also have signaled Blackmon's return to major contributor status?
"I've felt pretty good the past couple of days," Blackmon said.
From June 6 to Monday's 5-2 victory over the Giants, Blackmon hit .216 (22-for-102) with two homers -- a struggle that was nonexistent when he hit .331 with 37 homers in 2017.
In clubhouse conversation in recent days, Blackmon said he needed to succeed at the simple process of anticipating a pitch, recognizing it and timing it.
"If I'm on time, feeling good, I won't miss that pitch," Blackmon said.
But Blackmon also credited opposing pitchers, saying part of the problem was they were more locked in against him to a higher degree.
"This guy is the National League batting champion," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "He's an All-Star, started the All-Star Game, hit 37 home runs, knocked in 100 runs from the leadoff position. He's going to be pitched tough the next year, for sure.
"And Charlie, at times, has come out of his game a little bit. Our conversation with Charlie has been, 'Hey, be yourself.'"
How much better have the pitches been this year? Here is a breakdown entering Tuesday, per Statcast™:
• Last year, Blackmon hit .326 in even counts and .385 ahead. This year, those numbers were .307 and .257, respectively.
• Blackmon has endured a slight rise in his swing-and-miss rate against fastballs in even counts or when he is ahead -- from 13.3 percent to 16.
• Against offspeed pitches this year, Blackmon's whiff rate when he was even or ahead spiked -- from 22.4 percent to 30.4.
But on Tuesday, Giants right-hander Chris Stratton (8-6) tried to beat him with a 1-1 changeup. Blackmon launched it a Statcast-projected 416 feet over the center-field wall with an exit velocity of 101 mph.
"That's a good sign, to hit offspeed pitches up the middle or the other way," Blackmon said. "Also, it's really good to score runs early in games. It turns out Senzatela really only needed a couple of runs tonight."
Blackmon fought off an 0-2 fastball from Stratton for a fifth-inning single and scored on Arenado's homer. Blackmon's sixth-inning RBI single, on a first-pitch fastball from reliever Pierce Johnson, was part of a two-run inning that pushed the lead to 8-0.
Blackmon's stroke and the regular power of Arenado, who has 24 homers in 100 career games against the Giants, were more than enough for Senzatela, who improved to 4-0 with a 3.26 ERA in six appearances (four starts) against the Giants.
Senzatela (3-1) began the year in the Rockies' bullpen, but he was sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque after 10 relief appearances to build his pitch count to starter level. In Triple-A, he was twice pulled from action with recurring right groin pain, but he went 3-1 with a 2.15 ERA in eight starts.
Until Tuesday, the Rockies and Astros were the only teams in the Majors who had used the same five starters all season. But Jon Gray, the Rockies' Opening Day starter the past two years, struggled with confidence and didn't succeed consistently despite a high strikeout rate and was sent down to Albuquerque, while righty Chad Bettis went to the 10-day disabled list with a right middle finger blister.
Senzatela stepped in and fanned four against no walks. His work made the rotation 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA over the last eight games.
SENZATELA'S SPARKLING RETURN
With runners on first and third and two outs in the first, Senzatela took a risk. He threw a 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval and forced him to pop up to shortstop Trevor Story to end the frame. Senzatela gave up only one hit after the first inning.
"That might have been the most important pitch of the game," Black said.
Senzatela throws fastballs 64.2 percent of the time, down from 75.2 last year, according to Statcast™. He worked on his changeup in the Minors, and on Tuesday, he felt good with it, throwing it a career-high 14 times.
"I got a good result from it, and I just kept throwing it," Senzatela said. "It was huge to get out of that first inning with a zero, stranding those runners was huge, and I settled down quickly."
Gerardo Parra is hitting .460 (29-for-63) against right-handed pitchers in the last 30 days (23 games), according to InsideEdge. That leads the Major Leagues, which has an average of .259. On Tuesday, Parra went 1-for-3 with an RBI single.
HE SAID IT
"I feel like we're playing really good baseball, all together. We're swinging the bat. We're playing good defense. We're pitching really well, all at the same time. That's going to make for really good baseball." -- Blackmon, on the Rockies' recent success
Left-hander Tyler Anderson (5-3, 4.23 ERA) will take the mound opposite Giants lefty Andrew Suarez (3-4, 4.18) in the series finale Wednesday at 6:10 p.m. MT. Anderson is coming off his fifth win of the season last Friday against the Dodgers, when he tossed a career-high eight scoreless innings with four hits allowed, one walk and eight strikeouts at Dodger Stadium. But Anderson hasn't fared well at home, where he is 1-3 with a 5.26 ERA.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.