Ageless Blackmon beginning to regain his plate power

Feltner simplifies mound approach in six-strikeout start against Cubs

March 22nd, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- is 37 -- way up there in baseball years -- yet he has a way of making you think he can relive his best days.

Last year Blackmon was batting just .265 when he went to the injured list with a right hand fracture. Following a 52-game absence, Blackmon raised his final average to .279 over the last month and a half and convinced the Rockies to extend his contract through this season at a $13 million base, with performance bonuses that can net up to $2 million.

Blackmon has had a solid spring as leadoff man, and even proven spry enough that the Rockies are considering frequent starts in right field. And by homering in two of his past three games -- including a left-on-left, two-run shot off the Cubs’ Drew Smyly in the Rockies’ 5-2 loss on Thursday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick -- Blackmon teased that maybe he can have some throwback days.

While Blackmon said that occasionally a hitter can change his at-bat to try to generate power, neither of his home runs from this week fell into the category.

“They were both full-count [the former coming off another lefty in the Guardians’ Anthony Banda], so that’s just hitting,” said Blackmon, who is batting .333 with an .879 OPS this spring. “Good swing on a good pitch. I don’t think that’s a situation where you’re trying to take your shot.”

How many more shots are left for Blackmon? He knocked 29 homers in 2016, followed by years of 37, 29 and 32 blasts, but 16 in 2022 is his high-water mark since. He finished last year with eight homers in 96 games.

“I certainly felt I was capable of hitting for more power than last year,” Blackmon said. “I did hit a lot of doubles, but I like to do everything right, which means when you get a good pitch to hit and you are on time, you can hit that for extra bases. Home runs are better than doubles.”

Returning to the leadoff spot, where he has hit most of his career, requires a more patient plate appearance, which means shooting for power will not be a frequent strategy. But if the Rockies reach their goal of stingier approaches throughout the lineup, there might be runners on base when the lineup swings to the top -- and opportunities to drive balls.

There could be a link between improved offense from 9-hole hitter Brenton Doyle (.310 batting average, .356 OBP this spring) and Blackmon.

“It really helps to have guys on base, especially base-stealers who divide pitchers’ attention,” Blackmon said. “You have a chance to drive guys in or have a chance for that guy to steal a base and then be driven in with a single.”

Feltner seeing strong results with new approach
Righty Ryan Feltner struck out six in 5 2/3 innings on Thursday and held the Cubs to one run on four hits. Feltner can throw most any pitch, but he is buying into the Rockies’ plea to pitch off an upper-90s fastball that’s good enough to overpower hitters. It’s OK to fool them, but set it up with power stuff.

“That’s exactly it -- not using it all, all the time,” Feltner said. “I don’t need to break out pitches until I need to. It’s just waiting on those moments and knowing when they are. You don’t have to throw pitches just to throw pitches.”

Manager Bud Black, who is a few days from announcing a rotation, is pleased that Feltner’s thinking is evolving.

“The talent is there,” Black said. “What I’ve seen is simplifying things, not trying to do too much with his pitches. Those are the strides that he’s making, learning how to pitch his game with his stuff.”

The plan has been to have Feltner, Peter Lambert and free-agent signee Dakota Hudson compete for two spots, with the other going to the bullpen. Black commented on the quality of all three pitchers’ stuff after their most recent starts.

'Hard knocks' for Vodnik
Black likes the stuff of righty No. 25 prospect Victor Vodnik, but on Thursday he surrendered his fifth homer of the spring -- a three-run shot from Cole Roederer in the ninth that decided the game. Vodnik fanned the first batter on three pitches and had the next behind 0-2 in the count before the inning deteriorated.

“It’s been a little bit hard knocks, education-wise for him,” Black said. “But he’s going to end up being OK. He’s aggressive. He’s got really good stuff. I like the change, I like the breaking ball, the fastball has velocity. I’m not in his head on the mental side, but he can get a little amped up at times and that works against him, but he’s got a good future.”