Viewing Rockies' season through Bryant-colored lenses

August 11th, 2022

DENVER -- Kris Bryant’s left foot pain, eventually diagnosed as plantar fasciitis and a bone bruise, began in early July and by mid-month brought him to his knees -- not long before the season drove the Rockies to theirs.

“It really peaked for me in Milwaukee -- we had some really long games standing out there,” Bryant said Thursday morning. “And after the day game, I was crawling to the bathroom on the floor of my hotel.”

There is no projected return date. The best Bryant can do is say he’s not shut down for the season, but he is in a walking boot and can’t place weight on his foot. And to hear manager Bud Black tell it, there's no use wondering what the loss of Bryant has cost the Rockies: “I think more of the future, of what he brings to us and what it looks like when he's in our lineup.”

Two keys to the lineup, whether Bryant is there or not, performed big during Thursday afternoon’s 8-6 victory over the Cardinals at Coors Field to win the three-game series. The sizzling smashed a three-run homer and Ryan McMahon went deep immediately after in the seventh.

Still, it’s fair to wonder where the Rockies would have been with him this year, since Rockies Nation is a long way from retooling and fantasizes about what life could be with a healthy Bryant.

Buried in the pain is a solid offensive season from Bryant -- .306 with a .376 on-base percentage. Oddly, none of his five home runs came at Coors Field, but his .323 batting average and .761 OPS at home were useful.

“Every time I played, I thought I was going to have a really good at-bat,” Bryant said. “I've had that a lot throughout my career, but never when I was injured at the same time. I was able to ride that wave for as long as I could. It was kind of like, I’m still doing it, but it just didn’t feel great.

“And talking about DH-ing, honestly, it made it worse, because you hit and then you kind of don't do much for a little bit. Then it really hurts when you start moving again. That’s frustrating because DH is kind of where you want to get off your feet. You’d think it would be beneficial.”

The Rockies made a tough ask of Bryant when they signed him for seven years and $182 million during Spring Training. But they were 10-6 before the first of Bryant’s two injured-list stints with the back injury. After he returned in late June, Colorado had a 12-8 stretch and entered the All-Star break at 43-50 -- off-pace but dreaming of rising to around .500 and possibly trading to make a second-half push.

Expecting that, though, might have been a stretch.

In a four-game series in Milwaukee from July 22-25 with Bryant in the lineup, the Rockies absorbed one-run defeats in two of their three losses because of another injury. Primary setup man underwent season-ending right elbow surgery in late June.

Of Colorado's past 14 losses, six were by one run and one was by two. The Rockies were 20-22 with Bryant, but the latter defeats came with him in pain and the bullpen shaky. As the Rockies feared, trouble came when regulars or depth pieces struggled. That caveat will hang above the club until the standards are met.

Bryant, though, sees the group that he’ll continue playing with a small step closer.

“What Rodgers is doing is unbelievable after the first month. He’s probably the best hitter in the league since May,” Bryant said. “[Rookie Elehuris] Montero, I feel he’s gonna do damage every time he steps to the box.

“It's just been really cool to kind of see some guys have really stepped up that are going to be big pieces in the future.”

Bryant, the big piece, must stay healthy. Going forward, he has experience through hard knocks and respect for the unique climate in which he has signed to work. While the foot injuries are tricky and can happen anywhere, former Rockies theorized the back injuries in part came from Bryant not having learned to tailor his workouts to the climate.

“As a visitor for seven years [with the Cubs], no one really talked about playing at elevation,” he said. “It was, ‘Oh, we’ve got three games in Denver and we go to the next spot.’ San Francisco, a lot of the older guys made me aware that it’s much harder to sleep here, much harder to recover. It’s no joke.”

Bryant hopes to shed the pain and have the last laugh.