Bryant hits long-awaited first homer as Rockie

2016 NL MVP used time on injured list to mesh with new teammates

July 6th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Kris Bryant waited a long time for this milestone. Three months into his first season with Colorado, one which had been derailed by back issues, the 30-year-old finally hit his first home run as a Rockie.

Bryant’s blast, a solo shot in the top of the sixth inning, came in a 5-2 defeat at Dodger Stadium, Colorado’s second straight loss in Los Angeles. It was Bryant’s first home run since Sept. 15, 2021, for the Giants against the Padres. The 38-game homer drought was the longest of his career; he went 164 plate appearances between home runs.

“You play the game long enough, you kind of go through spells like that, but it's kind of good to just get one out of the way,” said Bryant. “And now, we can focus on getting back to just the baseball.”

Facing right-handed reliever Phil Bickford to open the sixth, Bryant connected with a 2-0 four-seamer in the upper part of the zone. With an exit velocity of 104 mph, according to Statcast, the ball just cleared the wall in center field -- and Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger’s glove. It was enough for Bryant, though, who smiled as he returned to his dugout to a parade of high-fives.

However, rather than joy or even relief, Bryant said the overwhelming feeling was more a sense of normalcy.

“I mean, I've hit plenty of home runs in my life, so, it was more of just, I expect that out of myself,” said Bryant. “I expect to go out there and do that every five games [or so].”

Still, this occasion coming so late in the season wasn’t what the Rockies -- or Bryant, for that matter -- expected when the slugger agreed to a seven-year, $182 million deal this March. Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bryant has averaged 27 homers a year throughout his career, with his high of 39 coming in his MVP campaign in 2016. The Rockies certainly expected for him to continue to show off that power upon joining the club, particularly given the hitter-friendly nature of his new home ballpark.

But the course of events would almost certainly have been different if not for a lower back strain that’s hampered Bryant for the better part of this season, leading to two separate stints on the injured list and a total of 44 games missed. Even with the injury, Bryant has hit well enough, posting a .293 batting average and reaching base at a solid .343 clip. It was the power that seemed to suffer most of all, as just five of his 25 hits prior to Tuesday had gone for extra bases (all doubles), and he ranked in the 43rd percentile of maximum exit velocity, according to Statcast.

Rockies manager Bud Black observed that Bryant’s been showing better bat speed of late, which he believes will lead to his left fielder generating more power from here on out.

“That was good for Kris, for sure,” said Black. “I think there's more coming. Obviously, his track record tells us that.”

Bryant said that outside of some general soreness that is to be expected from the day-to-day grind of a 162-game season, he’s “in a good spot” physically. And despite the number of games missed, there were some benefits to Bryant’s time on the injured list. When he wasn’t out on rehab assignments, he took his time on the bench as an opportunity to form some deeper connections with his new teammates.

Now, he feels like he fits right in as part of this Rockies squad.

It's pretty easy to sit there and pout when you're not playing, when you’re injured, but I feel like I used that time to my advantage and just got closer to the guys here, and that's been pretty cool,” said Bryant. “And now, I feel like I've been here for a long time and that's nice.”