Tapia's pinch-hit slam sets new Rockies mark

September 27th, 2019

DENVER -- After spending much of September watching a couple of newer players make headlines at his positions, not only made news but made Rockies history on Friday night.

Tapia knocked a pinch-hit grand slam during the Rockies’ seven-run sixth inning in an 11-7 victory over the postseason-bound Brewers at Coors Field. He became the first player in Colorado’s 27-season history with two pinch-hit grand slams.

Of Tapia’s nine homers this season, he has four as a pinch-hitter -- tied with Pat Valaika in 2017 for second most in Rockies history and one shy of Mark Sweeney’s 2004 club-record total.

When at his best this season, however, Tapia’s impact goes well beyond his contributions off the bench.

“I’m going to come in next year physically ready, ready to compete and show my worth and continue to get that confidence from my teammates, the manager and the staff,” Tapia said.

Tapia, 25, produced some solid spurts this season -- his first as a member of the Opening Day roster.

From July 14 to the Aug. 23 game when Tapia suffered a hand injury that sent him to the injured list, he started 29 of his 32 appearances, hit .347 and posted an .828 OPS. At the start of that period, Tapia platooned with Ian Desmond in the outfield, then David Dahl’s season-ending right ankle sprain on Aug. 2 opened more playing time.

This month, Garrett Hampson (eight-game hit streak) and Sam Hilliard (four home runs, seven RBIs and seven runs scored in his last eight games) have impressed in playing time that has come as a combination of two factors: The Rockies dropped out of the postseason race in the second half and nagging injuries to Tapia. Rockies manager Bud Black has started Tapia irregularly in September (nine starts in 19 appearances) because of an accumulation of bumps and bruises, most notably the bruised left hand injury and a bruised right knee.

But Tapia is still seen as a dynamic force with above average hitting and running tools who should be in line for regular starts, with Hampson fitting as a utility man and Hilliard being a wild card because of his power, when the squad gathers for Spring Training 2020. Tapia has elite bat-to-ball skills when sharp, and sharpness comes with playing time.

“‘Tap’ was on a nice roll in the middle of the summer, really finding his way,” Black said. “It’s been a little bit of a physical challenge in the last month. He just hasn’t found his groove lately -- look at the last 30-40 at-bats, they’re not Tapia-like. So, that was good to see.”

Friday’s slam off Jay Jackson, which was Tapia-like, came during an inning that was unlike the Rockies.

After Charlie Blackmon opened the inning with his 32nd home run of the season, Colorado went on to walk five times in the sixth inning, something the Rockies have been trying to work on of late.

But sometimes you need a hacker, and that fits Tapia.

Tapia, who said he is heeding the recent emphasis on patience but will cling to his nature, jumped on Jackson’s first-pitch slider and put it just over the right-field wall.

“When pitchers know you are an aggressive hitter, they’ll throw you more bad pitches, so I’ve been trying to be more patient at the plate,” Tapia said. “But being patient doesn’t mean I’m not going to be aggressive, because I want to be able to come into a game and if I see a good pitch go after it.

“I wasn’t expecting that pitch from him. But when I saw that pitch coming, I knew I had the opportunity to at least move the runner in from third. Obviously, I ended up getting really good contact and it ended up being more than that.”

Keystone record

Ryan McMahon’s 24th home run of the season -- a two-run shot in the seventh off Jake Faria -- gave him the Rockies' franchise record for homers from a player who received at least 75 percent of his playing time at second base. Clint Barmes had 23 in 2009.

The Rockies see McMahon as potentially a premium offensive player at a traditionally defensive position. They also can use him at first base to spell veteran Daniel Murphy, or at third (his original position) if something happened to Nolan Arenado.

“I still think, and I’ve talked to ‘Mac’ about this, there’s more in there,” Black said. “It might take a year or two to have it all come out.”

One to build off

Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela (11-11) completed a largely positive September by holding the Brewers to two runs on seven hits while striking out six in six innings. He did it despite being well below his usual fastball velocity and using a curveball that has improved over the past two months.

Senzatela finishes his 2019 season with a 6.71 ERA, and he’ll go into the offseason building on a game when he didn’t have his main pitch but still contained a postseason-bound Milwaukee lineup.

“I just got in my mind I needed to compete and throw a good game, and I feel good because I did it,” he said.