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Lucroy's new life at the plate key to push

Rockies C could become difference-maker down the stretch
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

DENVER -- "I was kind of surprised how he ended up here."

Charlie Blackmon glanced at the other end of the Rockies clubhouse at Coors Field and saw his newest teammate, catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

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DENVER -- "I was kind of surprised how he ended up here."

Charlie Blackmon glanced at the other end of the Rockies clubhouse at Coors Field and saw his newest teammate, catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

View Full Game Coverage

"Apparently he wasn't doing well in Texas, is what I've been told," Blackmon said. "But he's a good player, an All-Star last year. [When I first heard he was coming to the Rockies] I thought he was gonna make us better, and he has."

When the Rangers traded Lucroy to Colorado on July 30, the 31-year-old was mired in the worst offensive season of his career. With a .635 OPS in 306 plate appearances, it appeared as though his best production might be behind him.

But there's more to Lucroy's struggles at the plate than can be gleaned just from looking at his slash line. And there's ample reason to believe he could be a key contributor for the Rockies as they battle for their first postseason berth in eight years.

When he got to Denver, Lucroy was able to identify and begin working on fixing the mechanics of his swing with Rockies hitting coach Duane Espy and assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar.

"It's called casting, like a fishing pole," Lucroy said as he mimicked the motion of tossing out a fishing line. "I had been casting all year. My legs were a little overactive, too, which was causing me to pull off the ball when I swing. My legs fire too hard and my hands get away from my body and I get jammed on stuff that's middle-away."

Video: COL@CLE: Lucroy ties the game with an RBI double

Prior to the trade, Lucroy's expected weighted on-base average, based on Statcast-projected exit velocity and launch angle of batted balls, was .303 (league-average wOBA is about .320). Entering Tuesday's game against the Royals in Kansas City, his xwOBA was .344 since the trade.

In 77 games before the trade, Lucroy had 15 doubles and 19 walks. In 15 games since, five doubles and eight walks.

"I think the biggest thing that I've noticed is that he's a bat-to-ball guy, and as you get deeper into the count, that doesn't bother him," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "And with that, it looks as though -- and I noticed this before when he was with the Brewers -- he's got pretty good strike-zone judgment. And I think he's locked in. Coming over here, with a new team and a new environment, I think the focus is extremely good."

Lucroy has become more selective since joining the Rockies. Prior to the trade, he had been swinging at 44 percent of the pitches he saw. Since then, he's swung at 36 percent.

Lucroy's heatmap on balls in play before the trade reflects his inconsistency because of the casting in his swing. But since joining Colorado, his use of right-center field in particular is evident.

"That's my swing: I'm a right-center guy," Lucroy said. "That's what I've been really focused on. When you're sitting inside the ball, there's a lot more room for error."

Another element that has helped Lucroy is that he's Colorado's everyday catcher. That wasn't the case for him in Texas, where he was sharing the role with Robinson Chirinos. Now that he's playing every day, he says he's able to develop a rhythm at and behind the plate.

Lucroy is also a player that thrives on the collective effort of a club in playoff contention. While the Rangers were 50-54 on the day he was traded, the Rockies currently hold the top National League Wild Card spot.

"It gives you a reason bigger than yourself to go out and perform," Lucroy said. "Whenever you're struggling as a team, and you're struggling individually, you become selfish in a sense. And that's not the right way to play. I hate doing that. I hate playing like that. I hate feeling like that. I try to play for something bigger than myself. I always have. That's who I am."

Lucroy takes it a step further, and in so doing may fulfill the hope that Colorado's front office had in bringing him in to catch a young pitching staff in the middle of a playoff chase.

"I want to play for other people, serve these guys in here -- like, 'How can I help you? How can you help me get better?'" Lucroy said. "That's what a team does. I've tried to do whatever I can to try and help these guys along, and the great part is that at the same time I get helped along the way."

Brewers manager Craig Counsell both played alongside Lucroy, and managed him in Milwaukee.

"The preparation will be much easier than for some other guys," Counsell said. "And I think with catching, we place so much emphasis on information we give to catchers. So I think the information that's being given to you and the process throughout the game that leads to success, frankly it helps the more experience you have.

"I think that's why you see veteran catchers moved at this time of year. And I think they can move in fast and blend in fast, and become comfortable fast."

Lucroy was enduring a trying season with Texas. But he remains just a year removed from an All-Star campaign, and three seasons removed from a fourth-place finish in NL Most Valuable Player voting. He's confident he will be a difference-maker in Colorado.

"I know who I am. That hasn't changed," Lucroy said. "It's still in there."

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Colorado Rockies, Jonathan Lucroy