Dahl hungry for more after breakout cut short

September 14th, 2019

DENVER -- Standing near the foot of the stairs leading upward to the Rockies’ dugout, outfielder David Dahl took a pen to a hastily drawn zone chart, drawing solid, definitive lines connecting zones where he thought he did the most with pitches this season.

He used a small circle around an “X” where he thought he could be better, and a soft, squiggly oval where he knew he chased too many pitches. And his segments, curves and squiggles were accurate.

“I love talking hitting,” Dahl said, smiling. “I could talk hitting all day.”

Let’s interrupt this pleasant conversation to lay out the subject he doesn’t like as much: his injury. Dahl, who parlayed his status as first-time Opening Day starter into his first All-Star Game appearance, said he will not return this season from the Aug. 2 high sprain of the right ankle that forced him out of the lineup.

But when he is on the field, Dahl is an emerging star. He slashed .302/.353/.524 in 100 games, with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs. He was on the upswing a at the time of the injury -- .315 with two homers and a .940 OPS in his final 12 games, with hits in 11 of them.

“I was really starting to pull the ball in the air a lot more with power and authority,” Dahl said. “The extra-base hits were starting to go up again. It was unfortunate timing when that injury happens. I was starting to really get going.

“I was working more in batting practice, trying to pull the ball in the air, with backspin, not letting myself topspin it. Just playing every day and getting into the rhythm and flow of it … I get better the more at-bats I get.”

In May, Dahl went through a heavy strikeout period and he wasn’t happy with his power numbers. So he lowered his hands and adopted a more upright torso position -- undoing an offseason adjustment -- and his hitting took off. This was a massive development. A first-round Draft pick and an immediate producer (.315 with seven homers in his 63-game debut in 2016, nine September homers last year), Dahl showed that his ability to process information and adjust is on par with the game’s best players.

“He’s very confident and he has a lot of pride in his game,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “And he’s a quick study about what’s going on, in real time about how they’re pitching him, about what pitchers are trying to do and how he sees the game. There are a lot of positives that help him make quick adjustments.

“It goes back to his confidence.”

In an inadvertent demonstration that he’s hungry to improve, Dahl kept smiling when he scribbled the area on the zone chart where he should not have swung. If he makes that adjustment by lowering his strikeouts (110 in 413 plate appearances) and increasing his walks (28 – the same number as his doubles), it will make him an even tougher player to face.

“He’s just a really good hitter who can hit for average and hit for power,” Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “As he gains experience, the walks and strikeouts are going to start getting closer together. He’s a guy that in a full season shouldn’t strike out that much. He’s got too good of an eye, too quick of a bat. He’ll be the first to tell you that’s one of the things he has to work on.”

Mathematically eliminated from the postseason race, the Rockies are in an internal period of self-examination. Dahl is expecting the team to hunger for improvement, as he is.

“As a team, we need to do better taking our walks, not chasing, hitting the fastball in the zone,” Dahl said. “That’s something we can improve on next year.

“Especially after missing two months -- that’s something you don’t want to do -- I’m excited for next year.”