Rockies feel the glow in Isotopes Park
Rockies extend Isotopes deal; a peek at Rockies' 'next wave' of talent
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The literal high point of the Rockies' three-city, three-game, three-time-zone trip from Spring Training to Opening Day brought them here for a game at the mile-high home of their Triple-A affiliate. The 7-3 loss to the Albuquerque Isotopes served as a homecoming for players and introduced a home away from home for anyone missing "baseball with an altitude."
"Being here reminds me a lot of Coors Field," right fielder Charlie Blackmon said before the game. "I didn't sleep so great last night because of the elevation, balls are flying, my mouth is dry. A lot of things that would remind you of Denver you find right here in Isotopes Park."
Blackmon valued the benefits of using Albuquerque as the final step on a Rockies player’s journey to Coors Field.
"It's a tough park to play [in], depending on what position you're in," Blackmon said. "It's tough on outfielders, it's tough on pitchers, it's rough on hitters to go from here to another park, so there's a lot of obstacles that you face playing in Albuquerque that you also face in Denver."
Nolan Arenado and Isotopes alum Ryan McMahon both went deep with solo homers in the fourth to tie the game against starting pitcher Peter Lambert. Vince Fernandez added another in the sixth.
"The ball flies way more than [at] Coors [Field]," Arenado said of his homer, reinforcing his pre-game impression that Isotopes Park was a fitting place for future Rockies to refine their game. "It's a great ballpark. I'm really impressed. These guys have it made here. It's a beautiful place."
Rockies reliever Mike Dunn got a taste of pitching in the park during his rehab in 2018, but the Farmington, New Mexico, native was raised in a baseball environment similar to Denver's.
"The ballpark's great," Dunn said. "The playing surface is awesome. It plays pretty similar [to Coors Field]. Your pitches, the way they're going to break and act are very similar, because you're not at sea level. When you're at sea level, you get more action. You got to get used to things at altitude."
McMahon started at second for the Rockies, and though he's sealed his ticket for the big league roster with a .439 (25-for-57) Cactus League average, he couldn't have been happier to return to the park that launched him to the big leagues.
"It's awesome coming here," McMahon said. "It's a homey feel for sure. I have a lot of great memories with a lot of great teammates, so I'm excited to be back today."
Let's play two (more years)
The Rockies and Isotopes, affiliates since 2015, announced before the game a decision to extend the relationship for a fourth two-year term, keeping them connected through 2022.
"The professional element that's here in the front office with the Isotopes is really huge," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said of the mutually beneficial partnership. "They're looking to put a great product on the field, but they understand that helping the players with their lives here and their existence here is an important part of that. There's a lot of characteristics here that are beneficial to our players. Honestly, everything has been better than we even thought it was going to be."
The Rockies are in the midst of a 168-game regular-season consecutive game streak of starting a homegrown pitcher who played for the Isotopes at some point on his path to the big leagues.
Starting pitchers Chi Chi Gonzalez for the Rockies and Peter Lambert for the Isotopes are each slated to start the season in Albuquerque and give the Rockies rotation depth in Triple-A.
"They're the next wave of big leaguers for us if something happens to our starting rotation," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "[Lambert] threw the ball fine. He's thrown well all spring, so today's outing didn't surprise me. I liked the mix of pitches, I thought the fastball had life to it, good changeup."
Lambert, 21, pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out seven, including Blackmon twice.
"I was talking to him last night, trying to get something out of him, but he wasn't cracking," Trevor Story said of the oddity of hitting against someone he's played alongside for the past six weeks. "He's a competitor. He has good stuff. He threw that fastball at the top of the zone, and it's tough to get on top of."
Catcher Dom Nunez was 3-for-3 with a homer off Rockies closer Wade Davis.
"We've seen marked improvement," Black said of Nunez. "A young catcher working his way through the system. He's getting closer."
Jon Gray gets his final tune-up for the regular season against Taylor Rogers of the Twins Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla. with a 12:05 p.m. MT tilt.