DENVER -- Not even snow can slow Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Through early-game flurries, Arenado knocked a two-run first-inning homer -- and he thought he should have had another one an inning later, but a replay review didn’t go his way. Still, he shook that off and finished 3-for-4 with two runs and two walks in a wild, 12-11 victory over the Giants at Coors Field.
The day was much like the last four weeks -- no matter the quality of the Rockies’ overall performance, Arenado has been steadily spectacular. Since April 14, when Arenado victimized the Giants for the first of his 10 homers this season, he has hit .375 (33-for-88) and has 69 total bases, 17 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs. In the last seven games, Arenado is hitting .516 (16-for-31) with four homers and nine RBIs, and he has had multiple hits in six of those contests.
On Thursday, the Rockies saw a 7-0 lead turn into a tie at eight in the top of the sixth. The pitching was iffy, and they let the Giants get back into the game with bad defense while yielding three runs in the fourth. But the Giants didn’t get Arenado out until a strikeout in the eighth, after Trevor Story’s RBI single gave the Rockies a 12-9 lead that barely held.
Kyle Freeland was decent for five innings, but the homer he served up to Tyler Austin in the second marked the 13th straight game a Colorado starter has yielded a homer. And the Rockies have given up four or more runs in a franchise record-tying 15 straight games. Yet, with Arenado leading an improved Rockies offense, they have won eight of the last 15 and look to be dangerous once everything comes together.
“We’re trying to score runs,” Arenado said. “Like I talked about earlier, we’ve got to get more shutdown innings and we’ll be all right. But early on in the year, everybody was wondering where our offense was, and we were pitching good.
“Good teams are able to put it together, and we haven’t done that yet. But hopefully we’re starting.”
In the early part of the season, Arenado said he knew he “wasn’t doing enough, and that’s always disappointing.”
Arenado had an eventful year before the season’s first pitch. The swings of arbitration and contract negotiation finally led to an eight-year, $260 million contract that he signed during Spring Training. The team had an eight-game losing streak in early April, and the lack of offense from Arenado and most of the squad hung over the start of the season.
But Arenado became one of the game’s top stars by pouring all his effort into minute details. Defensively, many of the eye-popping plays he makes are ones he practices, whether it’s at the University of California at Irvine during the winter or on the half-field at Spring Training. Hitting is the same. Simple drills like soft-toss flips in the cage, and the thought process during batting practice are a little different from the routines of other players. Arenado simply carries all that into games.
“I started focusing on the process more than the results, and good things started happening,” Arenado said. “Atlanta is where I started to feel better and that carried over to Milwaukee and now back home. Even when I went 0-for-5 and 0-for-4 back to back, the last game in Atlanta and the first game in Milwaukee and I still felt like I knew where I was at. That’s a good feeling. Sometimes you don’t feel like that after an 0-for-9.”
A Lake Forest, Calif., native, Arenado has never been shy about his dislike for the cold. But on a day that started not only in flurries but in a temperature of 39 degrees and wind-chill factor of 32, Arenado socked a home run an estimated 402 feet off Derek Holland in the first, and Mark Reynolds followed with a homer to center for a quick 3-0 lead.
“Some hits and we won, so you’re going to usually smile,” Arenado said. “It was a long game. We wish we didn’t have that long a game in that type of weather.”
In a four-run second, Arenado seemed to have another homer on a towering fly to left. Umpires ruled it foul on the field and the call was upheld after a crew chief’s replay review -- even though TV replays seemed to indicate otherwise.
“Today was a great day, but you want as many homers as you can get,” Arenado said. “I just don’t think the ball lands where it landed if it went on the other side of the foul pole.”
Three takeaways that could lead to improved performance
But after the Austin homer and a walk to Evan Longoria, Freeland forced a Mac Williamson double-play grounder. And after the lengthy fourth, Freeland pitched a clean fifth.
After giving up five homers in the last two starts, Freeland addressed some inconsistency in his delivery and felt he made some progress.
“We recognized my tempo in previous starts has been much slower than if you go back and look at last year -- even though I had the pause, I still had a good tempo,” said Freeland, who also lowered his hands before the windup. “I got away from that by being so focused on trying to stay back. There was no bounce, no rhythm to it.”
• The Rockies had four two-out RBIs in the win. A deeper dive shows patient approaches that could make a major difference. For example, in the fifth, Charlie Blackmon and Story worked walks from Tyler Beede to set up Arenado’s RBI single, and Blackmon’s two-out double off Mark Melancon set up Story’s eighth-inning RBI.
• Desmond homered and drew three walks, and Chris Iannetta doubled in two runs in the sixth -- after Bryan Shaw walked two with two out, then yielded Austin’s second homer of the day. The two veterans rank second and third on the team in “barrel” rate -- percentage of balls hit with the ideal exit speed and launch angle to produce extra-base hits.