SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Turns out that Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond was right to not worry about his early Spring Training struggles.Desmond heads into Tuesday's Spring Training finale against the Mariners with a .213 batting average in 47 Cactus League at-bats. But with veteran players, especially those testing new wrinkles in
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Turns out that Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond was right to not worry about his early Spring Training struggles.
Desmond heads into Tuesday's Spring Training finale against the Mariners with a .213 batting average in 47 Cactus League at-bats. But with veteran players, especially those testing new wrinkles in their game, what matters most is finding comfort as the season draws near.
Desmond began the spring 1-for-22 with nine strikeouts. But since March 12, when he doubled on a 1-for-3 day against the D-backs, Desmond is hitting .360 (9-for-25) with two home runs -- both against the Angels on March 16.
Beyond the numbers, Desmond's rate of hard contact also has increased. There are still some areas to address, such as his 10 strikeouts to one walk during the nine games of strong hitting. But Desmond planned to use the spring to improve his pitch recognition and timing, and there are signs that his new swing-adjustment plan is on schedule.
"I feel like I'm on time, which is good," Desmond said.
Desmond, 32, signed in December 2016 for five years and $70 million, but he went on the disabled list three times -- once with a left hand fracture, twice with a right calf strain -- and finished 2017 hitting .274 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs in 95 games.
The contract, which pays Desmond a team-high $22 million this season, the rough physical year and the slow start this spring set off some panic waves among the fan base. But manager Bud Black noted that Desmond is a three-time All-Star with solid power numbers, and those marks should return when he is healthy and has his timing back.
"He's hitting the ball hard, having good at-bats, seeing the ball," Black said. "Early in spring, there's a number of guys that just weren't seeing the ball well. You can look at their numbers. But now that [Desmond] has got into the flow of the spring -- regular at-bats, more at-bats, more reps, he's feeling much more comfortable.
"He's made a slight modification where his hands are, where he's starting from in his stance, and he's feeling better about that as each day goes on."
A shortstop with the Nationals from 2009-15 and an outfielder with the Rangers in '16, Desmond signed with the Rockies as a first baseman with the understanding that his versatility could come into play.
Last year, with Mark Reynolds hitting for power in Desmond's absence, Desmond made 67 appearance in left field and 27 at first base. He began spring in left, which allowed Ryan McMahon -- the Rockies' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline -- regular time at first base.
But since news broke on March 8 that right fielder Carlos Gonzalez was re-signing with the Rockies -- pushing Gerardo Parra to left field -- Desmond has not played left since March 9.
McMahon rests on the roster bubble, since keeping him would mean the Rockies would likely start him part-time, use Desmond at first and in left field, and make Parra a platoon player. Or, Colorado could continue its current practice of anchoring Desmond at first while McMahon plays regularly at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Even though Black's lineup pattern in the Cactus League suggests Desmond would be the regular first baseman, Black didn't tip his hand when discussing how Desmond could be used.
"He made the All-Star team in 2016 as an outfielder; he feels pretty good about that," Black said. "We feel good about him at first base. He's a proven Major League player."
The consistent starts have allowed Desmond to settle in at first after having spent most of the offseason brushing up on his outfield skills. First base is important, with multiple-time National League Gold Glove Award winners Nolan Arenado at third base and DJ LeMahieu at second, and the rising Trevor Story at shortstop. All three make daring plays that sometimes require bounced throws, and Desmond will have to be as adept at handling them as Reynolds -- who also converted to a first baseman after spending most of his college and professional careers as a left-side infielder -- the past two seasons.
"It's nice to be able to be prepared, get work in and keep on getting to learn the position," Desmond said. "It's a position that I've only played 27 games at, compared with players who have played the position [many years]. To have the opportunity to do that for this group of guys is nice."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.