Could switch-hitting Toglia be unlocking his right-handed power?

April 11th, 2024

DENVER -- A couple afternoons ago, the Rockies’ switch-hitting showed up early at Coors Field to take turns with teammate Nolan Jones, swinging at any strike that the machine had the stamina to pitch.

Well into the session, Toglia uncorked a right-handed swing that sent the ball over the center-field wall. Hitting coach Hensley Meulens, at the time feeding the machine, said, “That was good … you can stop right there if you want.”

Of course, Toglia didn’t. As is customary in these marathons, he had Jones and assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere taking vertical cell phone video. Toglia, 25, likes watching and breaking down the good swings almost as much as swinging.

“It really helps,” Toglia said. “Matching the feel versus reel is really important.”

Toglia carried that “feel” into Wednesday afternoon with a two-run, fourth-inning homer from the right side off Diamondbacks left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry. The shot gave the Rockies the lead, though Colorado would fall to Arizona, 5-3, dropping four of its first six home games of 2024.

A first-round 2019 MLB Draft pick out of UCLA, Toglia used a strong Spring Training to make the team (.980 OPS), but playing time during the regular season has been sporadic -- one of the reasons he did the extra hitting Monday and Tuesday. Toglia, even with the two-run shot, is 4-for-25 (.160), but his three homers are the most on the team.

Most notably, two of the homers have come right-handed, an important development given how much the switch-hitter has struggled on the right side.

In 48 right-handed plate appearances last season, Toglia had just five hits -- none for extra bases -- and a .255 OPS. Before this season, five of Toglia’s six Major League homers were left-handed.

So dicey is his work from the right side that Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo replaced righty Bryce Jarvis with lefty Joe Mantiply with two outs in the eighth to face Toglia from the right side. The score was tied at 3 and Brendan Rodgers had doubled, but Toglia would fly out to end the inning.

“You talk to Michael, he’ll still say his best swings are right-handed,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “They had the opportunity to leave Jarvis in. They didn’t. But Michael’s confident from the right side.”

To break through for regular playing time, it would help for Toglia to be productive from both sides. Then maybe he can make an opponent pay for a move like matching him up with Mantiply at a key point.

“Hitting right-handed has always been a strength for me,” Toglia said. “This last year in the big leagues is the first time I’ve really struggled. ... Maybe I took [hitting right-handed] for granted just a little bit. Then when I got to the big leagues and the pitching got better, especially the left-handed pitching, I had to re-emphasize my right-hand work, not just focus on my left side.”

Until Arizona tied the game in the eighth, it looked as if Toglia’s homer would reward a quality start from Austin Gomber, who pitched six innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts. But Eugenio Suárez’s bloop two-run double with two outs in the top of the ninth against Justin Lawrence won it for Arizona.

At any rate, there was history behind the homer off Henry.

“I’ve faced him a lot throughout the Minors, and actually UCLA-Michigan -- he knocked us out of the regionals,” Toglia said.

Toglia, a first baseman by trade, started in right field and made a sliding catch of Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s drifting pop near the first-base line in the third inning. Toglia moved to first in the eighth, and had a bad hop elude him -- for the second time in the series -- before fielding a grounder to end the frame with the score tied.

Toglia is sharing time with Elehuris Montero, who started Wednesday at first base and drove in a run with a single. To keep a rhythm amid patchy playing time, Toglia shows up early to hit.

And hit.

“I’ve got to get on the field and see velocity on the field, at a distance that you can't really replicate in the cage,” Toglia said. “I'm going to make an effort to get out there, and just not let not seeing live pitching every day be an excuse.”