WASHINGTON -- Nolan Arenado's frequent grimaces -- always because of pain, sometimes mixed with anger, frustration or both -- serve as the illustration of the Rockies’ struggles over the last month.
Through June 11, the Rockies were four games above .500 and Arenado was batting .330 with a .982 OPS and 17 home runs. But the next day, the Cubs’ Cole Hamels smoked Arenado on his left forearm with a pitch that Arenado had little doubt was on purpose. His angry reaction toward Hamels and the Cubs’ dugout said as much.
In the Rockies' following series, Arenado fouled a pitch off his left big toe, then he did it again less than a week later. In the past five days, he has been hit on the left hand by a pitch and popped another foul ball off his left shin.
Since being drilled by Hamels, Arenado has absorbed bruise on top of bruise, and he has slumped to just .254 in his last 33 games. The Rockies went 12-21 during that stretch, and they sit five games below .500 overall and entered Monday’s play five games out of the second National League Wild Card spot.
But before Monday’s scheduled game against the Nationals was postponed because of impending bad weather, Arenado discussed his beat-up body with bemusement.
“Every day I’ve felt better this year, body-wise, I’ve hit a ball off my leg or something,” Arenado said. “The first game in New York [Friday], I felt great. I said, ‘My body feels good today. I’m responding well.’ Then against J.A. Happ, I hit a cutter right into my shin, and then my leg was killing me. It feels like there’s always something going on.”
Arenado was smiling and checking his bats on Monday afternoon, rapping them with his knuckles and listening closely to tell the quality of the wood. He was ready for another game, not feeling sorry for himself. But can his bones stop being a magnet for the baseball long enough to regain his bite during the proverbial dog days of the season?
“There’s no way to prepare for these things,” Arenado said. “When you play this game long enough and you’re out there almost every day, you’re going to get nicked up. It stinks, but it comes with the territory.
“That’s why this grind is hard. There’s a mental aspect, there’s a physical aspect, and there is an aspect of fouling balls off yourself and getting drilled.”
The Rockies need Arenado and their other top players to dust off their bruises to save their season. Colorado had four All-Star position players; however, Arenado is the only one of the four who hasn't spent time on the 10-day injured list, and all have lingering pains.
Right fielder Charlie Blackmon missed 10 games in May with a right calf strain -- the type of ailment that doesn’t go away until a player can have the rest that’s only available in the offseason. Shortstop Trevor Story missed 11 games before the All-Star break with a right thumb sprain. Outfielder David Dahl was held out of eight first-half games with a core injury. Last week, Dahl fouled a pitch off his left foot (unusual for a left-handed hitter) and was seen Monday testing a protective device for his right elbow.
The Rockies also have dealt with strange circumstances over the last month-plus, such as frequent weather delays and long, wild games at a Coors Field that reverted to its old-time high-scoring past. It all took a toll.
“We went to Arizona and swept them [June 18-20], and two weeks later [July 5-7, going into the All-Star break] they sweep us; it was weird,” Arenado said. “You have to give them credit. But the energy was down, for sure. It felt like we were hoping to get to the break. That’s not the way to play the game.”
But Monday provided much-needed rest for the Rockies, despite the fact they will play 10 games over the next nine days, with a split doubleheader looming on Wednesday. Not only has Arenado not bruised a bone for three days now, but his five RBIs the final two games at Yankee Stadium were one fewer than he’d managed over his previous 14 games. Arenado said the players have met and discussed putting aside the aches, pains and bad games.
“There’s still life there,” Arenado said. “There’s still time to make a move, but we’re definitely running out of it. We’ve just got to stay the course, continue to compete the best we can. I wish I could tell you what’s going to happen, but we dug ourselves a little hole. We can dig ourselves out of it, but it ain’t going to be easy.”