PHOENIX -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon has served notice: The first pitch just might be his pitch. And Saturday he showed he isn't bad with the second pitch, either.Blackmon tied Saturday's game against the D-backs by pulling Zack Greinke's first pitch of the sixth inning for a home run
PHOENIX -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon has served notice: The first pitch just might be his pitch. And Saturday he showed he isn't bad with the second pitch, either.
Blackmon tied Saturday's game against the D-backs by pulling Zack Greinke's first pitch of the sixth inning for a home run to right field. Then he provided the difference in the Rockies' 2-1 victory at Chase Field with another solo shot -- he swung wildly at Noel Salas' first pitch, then blasted the second.
The victory -- which also featured five solid innings from starter German Marquez and outstanding bullpen work -- helped the Rockies avoid being swept in the season-opening series. Blackmon had three homers in the final two games, all with early swings. On Friday, Blackmon's three-run, fourth-inning homer off Robbie Ray in an eventual 9-8 Rockies loss came on a first pitch.
"I think it's good to be able to hit early in the count, as well as late in the count," Blackmon said. "That's something you need to do to be a complete hitter, and that's part of the progression for me."
Ambushes like his first two homers appear to be by design for Blackmon.
He is well known to take first pitches, even though he does well when he offers at them. Last year, when he finished with 37 homers and led the National League with a .331 batting average, he was 15-for-34 (.441) on first pitches with two homers, eight RBIs and a 1.281 OPS. The hits included three doubles and two triples.
On Saturday, he was coy as to whether he was hunting Greinke's first-pitch curveball or simply couldn't resist it.
"It's a secret; can't tell you that," Blackmon said. "I will say that he threw that pitch kind of down the middle, which makes it easier."
Marquez gave up four hits, struck out four and walked four, but gave the Rockies a competitive effort after Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson struggled in the first two games. Of the 12 runs the Rockies scored, all but one came via the homer. But all the homers in the world can't make up for ineffective pitching, especially from a starter.
"In a sample of three games, you see a starting-pitching performance that keeps you in the game -- even though it was only five innings, he kept us in the game," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "And from there, the bullpen did an incredible job."
Chris Rusin, Bryan Shaw (1-0), Jake McGee and Wade Davis held the D-backs to one hit and a walk while striking out four in four innings.
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It stops here:David Peralta and A.J. Pollock singled off Marquez to open the bottom of the first. After Gray gave up three first-inning runs in the 8-2 season-opening loss and Anderson coughed up five runs in Friday's eventual 9-8 loss, the Rockies couldn't afford another such result. But Marquez struck out Paul Goldschmidt (0-for-8 in the series) looking, then forced a Jake Lamb grounder and a Daniel Descalso fly ball to begin a needed solid performance.
During the Goldschmidt at-bat, Marquez's fastball velocity jumped above 98 mph, but he said he wasn't thinking only speed.
"I was looking for the ground ball to make a double play, so I was throwing my sinker down and away," he said.
Decisions decisions: D-backs right-hander Salas (0-1) set the Rockies down in order in the seventh and after retiring pinch-hitter Pat Valaika to start the eighth, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo elected to leave Salas in the game to face Blackmon, who blasted an 0-1 fastball over the wall in right to provide the Rockies with the margin of victory.
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Blackmon could be foreshadowing a new team-wide plan. Last season, the Rockies swung at the first pitch 27.2 percent of the time, which tied for 19th-most in the Majors, according to Statcast™. The MLB average was 28.6 percent. However, Colorado's .384 first-pitch batting average was second-best in the Majors (against a .348 MLB average), and the .650 slugging percentage was fifth-best (with the MLB average slugging percentage being .585).
"We're talking a little bit about that as a group, too -- from the first pitch on, be ready," Black said. "From the opponent's standpoint, and I lived it, if the guy in the box is ready to hit, the pitcher knows it, and you've got to be careful with that first pitch."
The Rockies' big winter story was the bullpen spending spree -- three-year, $27 million contracts for McGee and Shaw, and three years and $52 million for closer Davis. McGee gave up one hit but forced a Peralta grounder, and Shaw and Davis had spotless innings -- Shaw with one strikeout, Davis with two.
Davis, 32-for-33 on save chances with the Cubs last year, acknowledged feeling the occasion was special.
"There's definitely tons of anticipation, especially not pitching the first two games," Davis said.
Rockies: After taking Sunday off, the Rockies will begin a four-game set Monday against the Padres at 8:10 p.m. MT at Petco Park. Righty Chad Bettis, who was battling testicular cancer this time last year but returned to the mound in August, will start after an offseason of normal health.
D-backs: After getting a rare Sunday off, the D-backs open a three-game series Monday night against the Dodgers at Chase Field. Taijuan Walker will get the start for the D-backs. The last time he faced the Dodgers was in Game 1 of last year's NL Division Series and he allowed four runs in lasting just one inning.
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Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.