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Rockies outfielder goes over the wall twice

@harding_at_mlb
April 24, 2019

DENVER -- Raimel Tapia couldn’t prevent a 6-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night -- just the Rockies’ second defeat in the last nine games -- but he went over the wall trying, in two different ways. In the second inning, Tapia homered into the bullpen in right-center for

DENVER -- Raimel Tapia couldn’t prevent a 6-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night -- just the Rockies’ second defeat in the last nine games -- but he went over the wall trying, in two different ways.

In the second inning, Tapia homered into the bullpen in right-center for two runs off Nationals starting pitcher Patrick Corbin. It was his third straight game with a homer, although the first of those was an inside-the-park job against the Phillies on Saturday night.

Possibly more impressively, Tapia, playing left, later leaped and reached at least two rows into the stands in foul ground on the third-base side to grab a pop fly from Yan Gomes for the first out in the top of the fourth.

Tapia also had a hard groundout to end the fourth with runners at the corners on a 1-for-4 night.

“The swings have been good of late,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He’s squaring up some pitches. When he’s on time, he can square the ball up. A lot of times he can get a little big and hard with his swing. He can expand the zone a little bit but I’d say the last 10, 12, 15 at-bats, he’s been on time, his balance is good and he’s swinging at strikes and laying off some borderline pitches out of the zone.”

The difference in the game was Victor Robles’ three-run double in a four-run third against starter Jeff Hoffman -- who was otherwise solid over five innings after being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque. But Tapia, 25, is showing signs of being a difference-maker for the Rockies.

After making a season-opening roster for the first time in his career, Tapia went 5-for-27 with 11 strikeouts and one walk in his first 12 games, five of which were starts. But in 11 games since, including five starts, Tapia is 9-for-29 (.310) with three homers and seven RBIs, and has trimmed his strikeouts to nine.

Tapia’s two pitfalls go hand-in-hand. There are times when he swings wildly, as if he looks like he’s going for a home run. But when he’s late, he rushes the swing and it looks out of control. But Rockies coaches have been working on a small adjustment with his stride foot that’s allowing him to be on time.

“My front foot was closer to home and it didn’t allow me to get to that pitch inside,” Tapia said in Spanish, through a translator. “I was a little late on that, and the away pitch I was getting underneath it. Luckily, I made that adjustment.

“Even from last year, it took me a while to understand that process. This year, the hitting coaches have worked with me constantly about that.”

Out of options coming into 2019, Tapia is beginning to show he can be a useful part of the outfield picture. He started Tuesday to give David Dahl a break, and additional starts came when center fielder Ian Desmond was dealing with leg soreness.

For now the role is off the bench. Monday’s homer in a 7-5 Rockies victory over the Nats came as a pinch-hitter. He is 3-for-10 (.300) as a pinch-hitter and 6-for-19 (.316) in all at-bats as a sub. Starts like Tuesday’s however, could have him pushing for more.

Of course, staying healthy keeps him a candidate for playing time. But he didn’t mind risking that for the catch.

“The Rockies fans had my back,” he said.

In review…

Two big shots, no big hit

Corbin, who toughed out several winning performances as a longtime D-backs pitcher, escaped the fifth by forcing a Mark Reynolds grounder with two aboard. Trevor Story doubled off Wander Suero to open the eighth with the difference still just one run, but Suero forced a Nolan Arenado grounder -- a day after Arenado turned a game with a homer off him -- and fanned Reynolds. Sean Doolittle then came in and struck out Ryan McMahon.

Black didn’t quarrel with the approach against Corbin, and added, “Their bullpen did a nice job -- to a man worked through our lineup.”

Can’t miss in a can’t-miss situation

The Nats loaded the bases against Carlos Estevez and Mike Dunn with one out in the ninth. Rockies rookie right-hander D.J. Johnson had two strikeouts, but walked Juan Soto and hit Howie Kendrick to force in two runs. Johnson has nine walks (two intentional) and a hit batsman in 9 1/3 innings.

“He’s got a good delivery, good arm action,” Black said. “You would think there would be more balls in the strike zone. It just hasn’t happened.”

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.