Mature rookie Tovar impressing in all facets

June 29th, 2023

DENVER -- Rookie shortstop  flashed a baby-faced look toward the Rockies’ dugout from second base, raised his hands and squeezed his fingers as Coors Field shook and teammates began to smell the eventual 9-8 victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday night.

Tovar had flipped the game with a three-run double to add to a plate full of increasingly scrumptious performances. But Tovar isn’t one to add extra sauce. 

So what was with the hands?

“I don’t know,” Tovar said in Spanish, with bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz interpreting. “The team started doing it, and I just followed suit.”

The green that dominates the colorway of the Rockies’ City Connect uniforms is fitting, since the club is turning key roles over to younger players. On Wednesday, for example, rookie Nolan Jones, 24, threw to the plate to retire David Peralta, ending the top of the sixth and setting the stage for Tovar. The game ended with Justin Lawrence -- who is 28, but new to the closer role -- pitching out of eighth-inning difficulty and ultimately earning his fifth save.

The wise-beyond-his-years Tovar, 21, is establishing himself as a guiding light for the Rockies. Whatever materializes, the quiet-mannered rookie shortstop will keep his emotions internal (unless it’s teammate-sanctioned tomfoolery).

“My whole career, I’ve been that type of player, very calm,” Tovar said. “I’ll celebrate, but it’s not part of my game. I tend to stay even-keel, but you know, the biggest thing is that I do feel really excited and really happy -- especially when we win like tonight.”

Tovar’s one-out single that began the Rockies’ three-run third against starter Michael Grove extended his career-best hit streak to 11 games.

No wonder the Rockies expected something good all along when they turned shortstop over to Tovar on Opening Day, and stayed with him despite a .187 start through April 25.

The game-winner was his 20th double of the season, tied for seventh in the National League and tied with the D-backs’ Corbin Carroll, who is leading in Rookie of the Year buzz for a surprise contender. Tovar’s .296 average over his past 53 games and his .356/.362/.578 slash line since June 13 could lead to him being in the conversation.

“What he's done the last month, and what he's done the last couple of weeks, statistically, says he's in a good spot as far as his confidence, how he feels in the box, how he’s seeing the ball,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “A lot of good things are happening.”

An example was the winning hit. Nick Robertson went below the strike zone with a changeup. Early-season at-bats often ended with Tovar chasing out of the zone. But this pitch was over the plate, and Tovar delivered the inside-out swing that left the Rockies encouraged even when he struggled.

“Honestly, I was just thinking to not to hit a ground ball in that situation and get doubled up,” Tovar said.

Behind the quiet manner in which he handles success, teammates say, is a guy who has impact even though he is easy-going.

Tovar showed enough ability last spring to confirm Minor League officials’ belief that he could be fast-tracked. One assignment was for him to be a leader at Double-A Hartford. The trait came through when he communicated strategy and observations in English and Spanish in meetings and in the dugout.

But Tovar never became a chatterbox. His personality is akin to that of stars such as Todd Helton, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon -- players who put energy into work and didn’t engage in brashness. He makes words count, even if he sounds more like a manager.

“During a mound visit, he’ll say, ‘Hey, I want you in this role … You’re our guy … I trust you here, so do it,’” Lawrence said.

Tovar doesn’t have to always be at the lead of the class.

“It builds over time, team chemistry,” Tovar said. “It happens naturally. We don’t overthink it.”

The middle infield future may be in his hands, even if every now and then those hands flash a funny little sign that he doesn’t fully understand.