Hilliard mashes two-run homer for first MLB hit
DENVER -- Did Sam Hilliard dream about hitting a home run in his Rockies debut?
"Uh, yeah -- why not?" Hilliard said after sending his first Major League hit into the Rockies' bullpen in right field for a two-run homer off Josh A. Smith in the seventh inning of a 10-6 loss to the Red Sox at Coors Field on Tuesday night.
Hilliard, 25, is the Rockies' No. 9 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and batted .262 with 35 home runs and 101 RBIs for Triple-A Albuquerque. He was called up to replace outfielder Raimel Tapia, who went on the 10-day injured list Monday with a left hand contusion, and start in center.
The homer sent Hilliard's family and friends into delirium. He looked up to catch the hugging highlight of the night.
"I looked up for one second and I saw my two best friends from back home. ... They were getting after it," Hilliard said.
It was a nice end to an eventful night in Coors' spacious center field.
In the fifth, Hilliard and left fielder Ian Desmond each stopped shy of what became Brock Holt's RBI ground-rule double. In the seventh, a single from Holt scooted beneath him for an error that cost the team a run. But Hilliard, listed at 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, shook it off.
"If I would have been dwelling on the fact that I messed up, I probably wouldn't have had success in my next at-bat," said Hilliard, who added that he will arrive early Wednesday to practice handling the nuances of Coors.
A Mansfield, Texas, native, Hilliard was a pitcher at two two-year schools and split his time between pitching and outfield at Wichita State before the Rockies drafted him in the 15th round of the 2015 Draft. His size, speed (124 Minor League steals, 22 this season) and bat speed (89 career homers, .893 OPS as a first-time Triple-A player) point toward success, as long as he trims his strikeouts (a career-high 164 K's this year).
"The more repetitions he's gotten over the years have made him a better player," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "If you have a skill set and you have athleticism, speed and power and a work ethic, you're going to get better. Sam is one of those guys who has done that.
"We saw it coming last year, and people in the organization saw the potential. Now he's here. He's not a finished product by any means, and there are a number of things he has to clean up and work on. But he's got the skill set and the tool set to be a player. We'll see if it translates between the lines, over time."
The Rockies have had luck with another ex-two-year-school, left-handed pitcher transitioning to the outfield. Four-time All-Star Charlie Blackmon took the same path.
"I always knew I was a good athlete and I could do it," Hilliard said. "I always knew the transition on the mental aspect of the game, that preparation, took a while to adjust. I've still got a lot to learn. I'm never done learning."
• Righty German Márquez, placed on the 10-day injured list on Monday, said his right arm inflammation appeared in the form of soreness in his biceps and into the forearm. He said it’s possible that the cramps that affected him in his last two home starts may be connected, but he isn’t sure.
“I don’t know how long it will be on the IL, but that’s what it is -- just tired,” Marquez said. “If I needed to pitch, I probably could. But, being realistic about it, I needed to rest it.”
• No. 20 MLB Pipeline prospect Rico Garcia, a right-hander, was called up for his Major League debut Tuesday against the Red Sox.
• Black also said lefty Kyle Freeland (left groin strain) will not return to the rotation when eligible Saturday. Freeland is doing his throwing program but has not progressed to bullpen sessions.
• Relief pitchers Joe Harvey and Phillip Diehl, who were called up for Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Braves but did not make an appearance, were optioned back to Albuquerque to make room for Hilliard and Garcia.