Once-reluctant Blackmon likely to split time between RF and DH

April 10th, 2022

DENVER -- The legendary routine of Rockies veteran Charlie Blackmon, the one that has helped him to four All-Star trips and even landed him a “Rock Your Routine” commercial from a local hospital, has room for him to mellow just a little with occasional days as the designated hitter.

Blackmon, 35, has not been the DH yet this season. In past seasons, he was reluctant to do it during Interleague games. When approached by his managers, he partially joked that he was being half a baseball player. But now that it has become a permanent part of the National League, he’s more open to it.

“Now that it’s an official position,” Blackmon said, smiling. “It was one thing when I could just hate on it because we happened to be in an American League park. But now that it’s an official position, I need to treat it as such.”

Blackmon didn’t start Sunday for the Dodgers after going 1-for-9 with an RBI while starting the first two games of the season in right field -- his primary position since moving from center in 2018. He played mostly center from his 2011 debut through 2017. Manager Bud Black understood Blackmon’s past reluctance to not be on the field defensively but sees him trying to embrace being part of a rotation of DHs.

“Charlie loves to play, and he likes to see himself as a complete player,” Black said. “It was hard for some National League players to DH, especially a guy like Charlie, who is so routine-oriented. But now he has wrapped his head around the possibility that because there’s 162 games of the designated hitter, the rest will be beneficial as his career winds down.”

But by no means is Blackmon going to accept being an aging, hitter-only player easily. Blackmon does not rank high in categories such as range and above-average plays made, but runners that tried to take advantage were often beaten by his smarts and his accurate left arm.

“I don’t know if I would call it athletic pride -- I think it’s just out of competitiveness,” said Blackmon, who said he will be an asset if he can make the plays he should make plus a few more. “I want to be a good player and beat the other team. But I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong. I’m just out there playing, trying to prove to myself, not necessarily others.”

There could be challenges with a primary lineup that has newcomer Kris Bryant learning left at spacious Coors Field and Blackmon trying to cover the spacious right. But rather than change his lineup, Black believes it’s best to rotate the DH when possible.

Issues such as the handedness of the pitcher and the need for rest will play a role. So will hot streaks. Connor Joe, who won Saturday’s game with an eighth-inning home run off Dodger Blake Treinen, made his second straight start at first base Sunday (C.J. Cron, usually a first baseman, had his second straight DH start).

Joe was the DH in Friday’s opener. Cron, Blackmon, Randal Grichuk and Sam Hilliard are DH candidates depending on the opponent and how they are swinging.

Blackmon returned to the leadoff spot this spring. If he hits for average, it’s not as big a concern if his dip to 13 homers last year doesn’t reverse itself. Once a consistent 30-plus homer performer, Blackmon struggled at the start of last year; although his average improved from May on, the homers in bunches never came. No matter what position abbreviation is beside his name, Blackmon hopes to find his swing and have an impact. The first two games have not seen much success, but he finished the abbreviated Spring Training with two homers and better contact than in the beginning.

“You can affect the game so much more as a hitter,” Blackmon said. “If you’re an unbelievable defender, maybe you do something once in a game. As a hitter, you’re up four or five times. Hopefully I can impact the game with the bat. Where I’m at, I’m looking for a season where I score a lot of runs, where I feel really competitive.”