TEMPE, Ariz. -- Defending National League batting champion Charlie Blackmon could become a more unpredictable hitter should the Rockies' experiment with him hitting in the No. 3 position hold.Blackmon batted .331 and set career highs in multiple other categories last year while hitting leadoff. Of his NL-high 725 plate appearances,
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Defending National League batting champion Charlie Blackmon could become a more unpredictable hitter should the Rockies' experiment with him hitting in the No. 3 position hold.
Blackmon batted .331 and set career highs in multiple other categories last year while hitting leadoff. Of his NL-high 725 plate appearances, just 38 ended with the first pitch. Of his 15 first-pitch hits, two were homers, three were doubles and two were triples.
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Blackmon noted Sunday that his reluctance to swing at the first pitch had to do with working a count to give his teammates more looks at the pitcher or, if a Rockies pitcher had run hard on base, giving him extra time to rest. But, say, a speedy player such as Raimel Tapia or Ian Desmond, or a heady runner such as DJ LeMahieu is on base in front of him, it may be good to take advantage of a pitcher and defense with attention divided.
"If I don't hit leadoff, there will be fewer team takes," said Blackmon, who went 1-for-1 with a hit-by-pitch and a walk in his fourth Cactus League start -- none at leadoff -- in Sunday's 7-6 loss to the Angels. "If you're hitting in the middle of the order, that happens a lot less."
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And Blackmon doesn't mind letting people know that he's prepared to hack.
"I want them to be scared to death that I'm going to hit that first pitch over the fence," he said.
With Gerardo Parra expected back soon from hamate surgery on his right hand, it's possible the parts won't fit for Blackmon to bat third. Then again, it's possible manager Bud Black can use Blackmon a significant amount at leadoff and third.
"The hardest thing is to move into the leadoff spot, so having some from the leadoff spot I think I'll be just fine," Blackmon said.
Righty Jon Gray, who gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits with two strikeouts, wildly varied his times releasing the pitch from the stretch.
Gray also played with his windup. After spending last season with his shoulders nearly perpendicular to home plate, much like in the stretch, he faced home plate more Sunday. He wasn't totally comfortable, but he'll continue to work on it.
Testing against a non-division foe and putting it out there for advance scouts that he has something new works to his advantage, Gray said.
"Two years ago, it was adding the curveball," Gray said. "Last year, I worked on my timing from the stretch. I want to do a new delivery that I felt a little out-of-whack with today, and maybe I'll stick with it. It could change everything for the hitter while still keeping my strengths."
Black said rotation competitor Jeff Hoffman was scratched before first pitch because of right shoulder soreness as a "precaution." Asked how long he'll be out, Hoffman said, "Just a day, for right now." Hoffman has given up one run on one hit in four Cactus League innings. … Righty reliever Carlos Estevez, who has made just one spring appearance because of a tweaked muscle on the left side, threw long-toss at 180 feet and expects to pitch from the mound soon. … Parra said he will take batting practice either Monday or Wednesday. In his swings, he doesn't feel any pain at the injury spot, just some soreness where the hand contacts the knob of the bat.
The Rockies' No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, middle infielder Brendan Rodgers, started at second base and launched a two-run shot to dead-center field off Angels starter Matthew Shoemaker. Middle infield-center field prospect Garrett Hampson, ranked seventh, followed with a solo shot to left. Both are likely ticketed to Double-A, but they hit for average and power and have physical tools that could have them in the Majors quickly. … Zachary Rosscup, trying to work into a bullpen that already projects three left-handers, gave up two runs on one hit and two walks. … After home runs in his last two games, outfield competitor David Dahl was 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Lefty Tyler Anderson, a solid member of the rotation, will make his second Spring Training start on Monday against the Cubs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. It will be the Rockies Cactus League debut for righty reliever Bryan Shaw, signed for three years and $27 million over the winter. Righty No. 10 prospect Yency Almonte (one run, two hits in five innings) also is scheduled to pitch as he tries to become a part of the Rockies' starting pitching depth. Follow the game on Gameday.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.