Cuddyer methodically goes about his business
PHILADELPHIA -- No matter the variant thrown his way, Rockies veteran Michael Cuddyer finds success through a systematic and efficient approach.
Last season, Cuddyer missed 14 games with a neck injury. Four games after his return, he began a 27-game hit streak. This season, he suffered a strained left hamstring on April 17 and missed 25 games. In nine games since his return, Cuddyer has hit .343 with a .395 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage.
How Cuddyer is able to quickly find the right path could be instructive. The Rockies have had their path to surprising success interrupted. They're 2-4 on a road trip that concludes with three games against the Indians at Progressive Field starting Friday night, and they've won just six of their last 17.
For an organization that isn't given to bold moves and personnel changes, Cuddyer might be the poster player in terms of method. If you're not going to make the big splash, the way to stay in contention with the NL West-leading Giants and big-payroll Dodgers is through preparing and believing.
Cuddyer's way is quiet. He dresses in a corner of the clubhouse, rather than in the middle. While he was part of the inspiration for a new custom of marking each win by having the key player's jersey number painted on the wall above the lockers, he seldom raises his voice enough to be heard. When he goes through his well-developed study for a game, you have to be either looking for it or you have to ask, because it's not done in a flamboyant manner.
But it gets done and it works.
"Each game, in pregame, I'll look at the video of the last time I faced the pitcher, and I tend to look at their last start," Cuddyer said. "I don't necessarily look at what he does in certain counts or things of that nature, I look at velocity, what his breaking balls look like, and what he tries to put guys away with. And I look at what the catcher likes to put guys away with.
"Once I see the video, I try to pull up that at-bat against these guys [the pitcher and the catcher] and what it looked like from the hitting perspective in the batter's box. After that, I just basically go up there and fight, battle, get myself into some good counts. When I get myself in good counts, I take some shots. It's just me against you, a fight."
From the outside, the Cuddyer study guide sounds mundane. But there's an excitement in his voice when he discusses strategy, every bit as much passion as his voice carries when he discusses the personal confrontation.
It's that quiet drive that produces success in a schedule that's six months of almost daily games. The poor offense on the current road trip, best illustrated by a 4-for-48 performance with runners in scoring position, won't be reversed by panic and handwringing. Cuddyer is a leader in the attack that manager Walt Weiss believes is the best, even though this stretch looks like many Rockies stretches over the years that lasted for months rather than days.
"That's the way to work these things out," Weiss said. "You get in there, you sweat, you get your hands dirty and you figure it out that way. There are no magic words you can say. It's not like these guys are going up there without focus or intent. It's just one of those cycles of the season."
The Rockies are full of outfield talent, even with Carlos Gonzalez dealing with a .262 batting average through injuries to his left index finger, left knee and right calf. Second-year regular leadoff man Charlie Blackmon (.319 in 52 games) and a couple of part-timers -- second-year right-handed hitter Corey Dickerson (.351 in 34 games) and veteran Drew Stubbs (.330 in 40 games) -- have produced, with Weiss using them (Blackmon more than the others) based on matchups.
But Cuddyer remains a mainstay. He is hitting .326 overall with a .918 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) even though he doesn't sit against difficult right-handed pitchers.
Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, a longtime Twins teammate of Cuddyer before Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies before the 2012 season, said Cuddyer is a valuable resource to younger players searching for opportunity. Cuddyer was in their spikes once.
"I go back to '06, he didn't really play a lot the first month," Morneau said. "But he just concentrated on being a good teammate and being ready. If he would have gotten bitter, angry about not playing or felt sorry for himself, once he got that opportunity he might not have taken advantage of it.
"That's what makes him able to relate to everyone. He's struggled. He's had to change positions a bunch of times. But in the end he always did what was best for your team. When you have your better guys, your veteran guys, doing that, then it shows everyone else."
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki -- whose highest compliment for Cuddyer is that he is "a good dude, a teammate in the way Matt Holliday was," -- believes Cuddyer has set a standard for the club by advancing from when he arrived at age 32 to now, at 35.
"What I've noticed about Cuddy since he came here is he's become a better hitter," Tulowitzki said. "I saw things in his swing or in his BP where I'd say, 'He needs to work on that.' But right now he's cleaned up all those things. A complete hitter is what we all strive to be, and he's very close to that."