Bryant tests back, legs in 'super-successful' spring debut

February 26th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies’ didn’t wait long to test his back and his right foot.

Bryant’s first season of a seven-year, $182 million contract was limited to 42 games, due to a back injury early in the year and a combination of plantar fasciitis and a bruised heel in his right foot that ended his season on July 31. But in the first inning of Saturday afternoon’s Cactus League opener, a 12-5 victory over the D-backs, Bryant went first-to-home on Ryan McMahon’s double.

He passed the test with colors. But flying? Not so much.

“I felt fine running,” Bryant said. “I just felt slow.”

The ability to ease into action would have been nice. But after Bryant reached on a fielder’s choice, McMahon lined a Ryne Nelson pitch over center fielder Jorge Barrosa’s head to the center-field wall.

“That’s one of those balls where if you don’t score, it looks bad, you know?” Bryant said. “I was glad I was able to come around there. It’s good to get the first of everything out there -- first slide, first at-bat, first hit, everything. Today was super-successful for me.

“We haven’t had a normal spring like this in a while. It felt fresh, the way it’s supposed to. That’s kind of the sentiment around here -- guys are excited just to not have to worry about lockouts or COVID. It’s a good start.”

The appetizer

The Rockies' top prospect, Zac Veen (MLB Pipeline No. 27), leaped off the list and into real life with his first-pitch home run off D-backs right-hander Mitchell Stumpo in the eighth inning. Veen is expected to begin the season at Double-A Hartford, but he has a chance to put himself on the fast track.

“I’m here to show who Zac Veen is -- that’s the point,” he said. “It’s simple. Right there. I’m here to help the team win, and I want to be a part of this.”

Veen, 21, said it would be cool if he were presented the ball from his first homer in Major League competition, even if it is the Cactus League. But something else would be cooler.

“I mean, hopefully, a kid got it,” Veen said.

The homer came after a sharp line-drive double to center.

“The base hit his first at-bat, that ball was waffled, came off the bat hot,” manager Bud Black said. “The home run on the pull side, I liked that, too. He sees himself as a good hitter and he’s shown that in the Minor Leagues.”

Veteran first impression

Non-roster utility man Harold Castro, non-tendered last year by the Tigers, made a mark in his first game with a double and a triple in his first two at-bats. Castro started at second base and can move to center field -- a skill useful on a roster thin in center and needing a left-handed bat.

“I like the versatility,” Black said. “I like the bat-to-ball skill. This guy’s got Major League service time with some performance behind it.”

Former Pirates infielder Cole Tucker, a switch-hitter with versatility looking to simplify his swing to forge a fresh start, started the game in center (he came up an infielder, but has played the outfield on occasion), singled in his first at-bat and added a steal in starting his bid to be part of the depth picture.

Remember the name

Raves about non-roster utility man Coco Montes are few, but there is something to like about a versatile player (middle infield, with outfield being introduced) with a .362 on-base percentage and an .837 OPS in 126 games between Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last season. Montes, 26, popped a two-run homer Saturday off Ryan Hendrix, who pitched in 45 games for the Reds in 2020 and 2021.

He has learned

Non-roster lefty Ty Blach, who transitioned to the bullpen last year while bouncing between the Rockies and Triple-A Albuquerque, replaced starter Noah Davis with the bases loaded and two out in the second inning. He ended the threat with a strikeout of Josh Rojas.

Blach, 32, is a Denver native, yet he noted that even a homeboy has to adjust when playing for the hometown team. When starring at Regis Jesuit High School, he didn’t have the challenge of a Major League schedule that took him in and out of the unique atmosphere.

“Last year was understanding the way altitude plays and the difference in how pitches move at home and on the road,” Blach said. “It was learning how to prepare my body each day.”