Bryant's absence glaring as bats stifled again

May 24th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Monday's 2-1 loss to the Pirates was a case of the Rockies needing an accomplished hitter. It would have been nice to have left fielder , but he was pulled from the lineup before first pitch with a recurrence of the lower back issues that have cost him 21 games so far on the injured list.

“His back flared up,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We’re going to see where this is tomorrow. He got to the park, as every player does, goes through his routine in the cage. He just didn’t feel as if it was game-ready.”

This is not to say Bryant -- who returned from his injury to play one game of the doubleheader on Saturday and another on Sunday against the Mets -- was the sole reason the Rockies lost in the first of three games at PNC Park. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. Any key at-bat that landed for a hit could have made Bryant’s absence sting less.

“Just the big hit … It didn’t come tonight, on this Monday night,” Black said.

The Rockies have lost 12 of their last 16, and 10 of their last 11 on the road. While it’s a bit simplistic, some of Colorado's woes have coincided with Bryant’s injury.

During Spring Training, the Rockies signed Bryant for seven years and $182 million. Bryant hit safely in the first 11 games this season while posting a .349 batting average. But after a 1-for-16 stretch over four-plus games, Bryant reported the back problem.

Since April 25, the last time Bryant played before going to the IL, the Rockies have hit .220 with a .281 on-base percentage and averaged 2.09 runs on the road (11 games).

One player is not going to shift overall offensive numbers significantly. And many players, even those who are accomplished elsewhere, can struggle on the road when faced with the park and atmospheric differences that come with going in and out of Denver.

But a player like Bryant can change a game, even though he has no homers to go with his .270 batting average, .342 on-base percentage and four doubles through 17 total games.

"Once he gets back to being Kris Bryant, he's a presence in the middle of the order -- a producer," Black said. "On-base percentage is a big component of his game. There's RBI potential, clutch hitting, he hits good pitching -- good at-bats, takes a walk, there are things that other guys notice. He rubs off on other players by how he takes his at-bats, how he plays his offensive game."

Monday's game -- in which Pirates star Ke’Bryan Hayes turned the game's outcome with a steal of second before scoring on an infield hit in the eighth -- illustrated how much the Rockies need anyone to provide some firepower. Their only run scored in the fourth without an RBI, when Randal Grichuk grounded into one of the team’s three double plays.

“It's going to happen,” catcher Elias Díaz said. “But we have to show up tomorrow, ready to play and win the game.”

But during this stretch, the Rockies haven’t taken care of business at home, either.

The Rockies have hit better at home, although the Mets held them to one run in the doubleheader opener Saturday and no runs on Sunday. That capped a 3-6 homestand where pitching and defensive woes led to losses in games in which they scored 10, seven, six and seven runs.

Right-handed pitcher Chad Kuhl, who gave up five hits and four walks but just one run on 103 pitches in a return to his former home ballpark, said the Rockies simply have to push through this tough time.

“I think that we’re a professional ballclub, so we’re going to be fine,” Kuhl said. “It’s just one of those things where it may be our time to have a bad stretch, but it’s not going to stay this way much longer.”

Just the same, the Rockies have to hope Bryant’s back allows him to be part of ending the struggle.