Black likes Blackmon in role of leading man

Rockies skipper also seeking dedicated 8th-inning arm to set up Davis

February 15th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A year after looking for ways to move out of the leadoff spot, Rockies manager Bud Black is counting the reasons to keep him up top.

"With Charlie, there's danger right out of the gate with a potential home run, extra-base hit," Black said. "It's a quality at-bat the first at-bat of the game -- the pitcher is on guard, man.

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"And I like the fact that one of our better players gets the extra at-bats when we get toward the end of the game."

Early last spring, Black experimented with hitting leadoff and Blackmon third. The project, at least as a primary strategy, was scrapped when the Rockies signed during Spring Training and restored Blackmon to the first spot.

Blackmon ended up hitting first in 95 games, with a .291/.366/.513 slash line in those 436 plate appearances. But at times to jump-start the offense, the Rockies went with first. Blackmon produced the same .291 average in the No. 2 hole, although he saw drops in on-base percentage (.344) and slugging (.466).

It's possible Blackmon, who also started eight games in the No. 3 hole, could have hit out of the top spot in more games. But LeMahieu, who signed a two-year contract with the Yankees this winter, went on the injured list three times.

Interestingly, new Rockies first baseman , after missing the early part of last season with the Nationals, produced a .317/.341/.516 slash line in 31 games leading off last season with the Nats and Cubs. However, Black said Murphy would hit high in the order but not necessarily at the top.

Two younger competitors for roster spots and playing time, Tapia and second-base hopeful , have the speed and hitting style of a traditional leadoff man, but Black noted that those players have not yet done it in the Majors.

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Blackmon is proven. In 2017, he led the National League with a .331 batting average, set a record with 103 (of his 104) RBIs from the top spot and hit 37 home runs. He didn't fight the strategies last year.

"I don't think it was hard for me to move out of the leadoff spot," Blackmon said. "I think it's more difficult for someone to move into the leadoff spot. But we have a lot of capable hitters in the lineup that can do it. I don't think they'll have any trouble making that adjustment."

The experienced Murphy isn't wed to any spot in the order.

"Wherever Buddy sticks me," Murphy said. "I have no problems where I hit. I have no preferences where I hit. Between Buddy and the front office and Jeff [Bridich, the general manager], they're going to get together and construct a lineup they think works the best for us to win ballgames. It doesn't necessarily mean we'll have the same lineup every single day."

The eighth wonder

With former Rockies primary righty setup man plying his trade with the Yankees, Black will need to fill the eighth inning. While he likes to mix and match at other points of the game, he believes bullpens work best with a dedicated closer (, in Colorado's case) and an eighth-inning guy.

"That is advantageous if you have those two pitchers at the end that can wipe out left-, right-handed hitters, it doesn't matter," Black said. "They have weapons. They have performance."

Righties and finished last season solidly and are candidates for the role, but Black said he'll let Spring Training performance guide his decision. Bounce-back candidates such as lefty and righty could also work into the role.