Desmond adjusting hands for Coors Field

Injuries and timing caused outfielder to hit better on road in 2017

March 8th, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies' experienced his "ah-ha" moment one day in the batting cage at home in Sarasota, Fla., this offseason.

Taking the idea -- lowering his hands while in his batting stance -- into games takes time. After an 0-for-3 day in Wednesday's 5-4 Cactus League victory over the Rangers, he is 1-for-16 in six games.

But if the changes lead to better extension on his swing -- which in turn can deliver solid contact that will play well at Coors Field -- his cold start will be attributed to normal Spring Training adjustments.

"The goal is to be a better hitter," Desmond said. "I feel good. It's a work in progress. I'm working really hard with the hitting coaches, trying to get it ironed out. But it's still early. Trying to get that timing is key."

Desmond, 32, joined the Rockies on a five-year, $70 million contract last season, only to sustain a broken left hand when he was hit by a pitch during a March 12 Spring Training game. He missed the first month, and later in the year went to the disabled list twice with right calf strains. He managed a .274 batting average with seven homers and 40 RBIs in just 95 games, but never quite found his timing.

But Desmond didn't settle for the notion that good health would allow him to make an impact.

As a productive, but at times streaky, player with the Nationals (2009-15) and Rangers (2017), the right-handed-hitting Desmond's blessing was an ability to pepper balls to all fields. His Statcast™ 2015-16 spray chart of singles and extra-base hits demonstrates no tendency to the pull side or the opposite field:

A similar pattern was present in 2017, his first year with the Rockies:

But what would happen if Desmond were to extend his arms in a swing that could lift more balls to the pull side? Lowering his hands was something he had done before, and it occurred to him during that fateful hitting session.

"One day I was out in the cage messing around," he said. "I actually had done this in 2014 or 2015, I can't remember. I had a month where I was just on fire.

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"We had one of the best records in the league, so we had a seven-day off period. I had a terrible postseason -- not terrible, but bad postseason, and I abandoned it. Then I hadn't gone back to it until this offseason. I was looking through some video after I did it in the cage one day and said, 'I'm gonna go back.' I remember that feeling and watched some video. There was some really good stuff in there."

He is making the adjustment during a different spring. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association reduced the number of practice days between when position players begin workouts and the start of Cactus League games.

"The day I got here, there was live BP. I've never had that in my career," he said. "But it's also good at the same time. What we're sacrificing now will benefit us in the end."

Manager Bud Black also is testing Desmond at the leadoff spot in an attempt to move Charlie Blackmon to third in the order. Blackmon led the National League in hitting, and drove in 104 runs (including a Major League-record 103 from leadoff), so the Rockies want to see if moving to No. 3 can maximize his talents. So Black is letting Desmond -- who has the speed the Rockies desire, but must show the ability to reach base -- work through the hand adjustment in the Cactus League.

"That's going to be a continued work, just getting his timing and balance, and doing what all hitters need to do this time of year," Black said.

Desmond was more effective on the road, with a .283 batting average, .347 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage in 48 games, than at home with .265/.304/.331. He wants to change that.

"The one thing I feel is I've hit the ball hard, consistently over the course of my career," he said. "Last year, it happened to be straight into the ground. But that had a lot to do with timing.

"As long as I can find the barrel, I feel like I have a really good chance to have success. Hopefully this allows me to get to the barrel a little bit further out front and put the ball out in gaps, and use Coors Field to my advantage."