DENVER -- Second baseman DJ LeMahieu returned to the Rockies' lineup and to the top spot in the order Tuesday, after missing eight games with a right hamstring strain.To clear room on the Major League roster, the Rockies optioned infielder Pat Valaika to Triple-A Albuquerque. Valaika has struggled, batting .103
DENVER -- Second baseman DJ LeMahieu returned to the Rockies' lineup and to the top spot in the order Tuesday, after missing eight games with a right hamstring strain.
To clear room on the Major League roster, the Rockies optioned infielder Pat Valaika to Triple-A Albuquerque. Valaika has struggled, batting .103 (6-for-58) in 28 games, including 12 starts.
The lineup bears watching. Earlier this season, Rockies manager Bud Black began using LeMahieu as leadoff and left-handed hitting Charlie Blackmon -- the Majors' top run-producing leadoff man from 2014-17 -- mostly at No. 2. During LeMahieu's absence, Blackmon returned to his old role for seven of the eight games.
LeMahieu has been no slouch at the top of the order this season, batting .279 with a .338 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in 17 games. Although LeMahieu's slash numbers in 10 games at No. 2 are a little higher -- .308/.413/.513 -- Black said he likes some aspects of LeMahieu at the top of the order. Going up against Angels lefty Andrew Heaney on Tuesday, it made sense to lead off with the right-handed hitting LeMahieu, followed by lefty-hitting Blackmon and righty-hitting Nolan Arenado.
Black did not box himself in, however.
"DJ likes leadoff, Charlie likes to hit second; Charlie likes to hit leadoff, DJ likes to hit second," Black said. "I wouldn't read too much into it. It's just something that we think right now is the best lineup we can put out there."
LeMahieu said during the afternoon he was ready to return, but did some running out of the batter's box to make sure. He said he is confident in his ability to make a quick burst.
"A hammy is not something I've ever dealt with before, so I put a lot of trust in 'Doogie' [head athletic trainer Keith Dugger] and the training staff, and I feel really good, ready to go," LeMahieu said. "I did a such baseball stuff as I could. I feel I was able to do enough to get ready."
Restart for Valaika
Sending down Valaika means Ian Desmond is the only player on the roster with extensive experience at first base, although Gerardo Parra played the position for 25 games (20 starts), mostly in 2016 when he was battling an ankle injury. Parra has said he does not enjoy first base. Utility man Daniel Castro took balls at first base during batting practice Tuesday.
Last season, Valaika set a Major League rookie record with 16 pinch-hit RBIs, which also led the Majors.
"He needed some regular at-bats," Black said "We saw what Pat could do last year. The best version of our team is with Pat on it, because of the flexibility and versatility that he has, going to a number of positions.
"But he's got to get in a good spot. Mentally and physically, he's not quite there."
Black noted that in addition to struggling with on-and-off playing time this season, Valaika was behind because an oblique injury limited him to 11 Cactus League games.
Home warm home
The Rockies entered Tuesday 5-7 at Coors Field, but in a strong position because they are 15-8 on the road. Warm weather is forecast for the six-game homestand, which is a contrast to the cold, rain and snow that they've had to face much of the schedule.
The Rockies also have been winning because of strong starting pitching, but the bats need to warm up with the weather.
"It feels great, because summer's here a little bit; it's like the season is here, and that always helps," shortstop Trevor Story said. "It's not easy to hit in cold weather. That's no excuse. But it's a very welcoming sight to see, some cold weather."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.