The Rockies’ Garrett Hampson, whose home run and two-RBI Friday night earned him another start Saturday against the Mariners, doesn’t know how he learned to hit. From a young age, he just picked his left leg up high, put it down and socked the ball.
"Every hitter, at a young age, you find something that maybe you watch on TV," said Hampson. "And you try it and it just feels comfortable and it kind of takes off."
But a key reason Hampson, a credible player in the infield and outfield, keeps getting chances is that he abandoned the hitting style that was with him as long as he can remember. And he did it in one day.
Hampson had a .210 batting average and .573 OPS in his 213 plate appearances last season from Opening Day through Aug. 24. Already having been forced to actually study his own swing for the first time in his life, he was ready for hitting coach Dave Magadan’s gentle suggestion.
“'Mags' brought it up,” Hampson said. “I started to do it right away in the cage, and it felt natural right away.”
Right away, as in that day: Aug. 25, 2019.
In that game, Hampson homered off the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha in an 11-4 loss at Busch Stadium. And the approach hasn’t stopped working. In 122 plate appearances from that day through Friday night, Hampson slashed .311/.463/.533 for an .896 OPS.
While the homer off Wacha was an aha moment, Hampson said he gained full confidence during the Rockies’ final road trip, to Los Angeles and San Francisco, when he took advantage of a slice of playing time and batted .370 (10-for-27) with four home runs over six games. Like with starting pitchers Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, relief pitchers Jairo Díaz and Carlos Estévez, games during the final days of that 71-91 season turned out to be a springboard to strong 2020 starts.
The funny part about dropping the leg kick is that it seems counterintuitive. Hampson is quite athletic, as he has shown on several defensive plays, but he’s not big. He puts his height at 5-11 in his baseball spikes. His build produces speed.
Still, being on time and guarding against an overly upward plane with the swing has proven more valuable than trying to create torque.
“Before last year, I never really had to think about my swing or my hitting mechanics, because the numbers were there, the stats were there,” Hampson said. “It was something that I never really paid close attention until last year.
“When I hit some struggles, I had to sit down and watch some video or do some research. I’m glad it happened, because it’s helped me for the better.”
Kemp makes writing a lineup card easier
Veteran Matt Kemp began the year as designated hitter against left-handed pitching, but he didn’t stay a so-called platoon player long.
Saturday was his seventh start in the last eight games (including a start in left field). The Mariners’ Nick Margevicius was the third straight lefty starter the Rockies faced, but Kemp also started against the Padres’ Zach Davies and the Giants’ Johnny Cueto and Logan Webb the three prior games.
Kemp’s presence and professional at-bats allow manager Bud Black lineup flexibility. David Dahl, who began the year as leadoff hitter, and Ryan McMahon, sixth in the original lineup, were on Saturday’s card as seventh and eighth, respectively, while Kemp hit sixth behind the surging Daniel Murphy. It helps to have a productive and professional hitter to take the pressure off struggling teammates.
“One of his greatest strengths is his ability to knock in runs, put the bat on the ball and really grind out critical at-bats,” Black said. “We’ve seen that so far. The way he’s going now, there’s a threat of an RBI, a big homer, slugging percentage. There’s just a good feeling right now with Matt offensively, and his place on our club.”