Rox plan to squeeze out run production

Club hopes to improve from franchise-worst .256 batting average

February 24th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies shortstop envied the Red Sox as they won last year’s World Series by squeezing just enough production from just enough hitters.

Journeyman drove in eight runs in the five games, but the Sox hit just .222 in the Fall Classic and .242 in their 14 postseason games. But they pushed across 84 postseason runs -- 25 more than the Dodgers, whom they defeated for the title. Story is convinced that the Rockies, who made the postseason despite their worst regular-season batting average in their history at .256 but hit just .174 in four postseason games, can accumulate offense no matter whether the hits come.

”Hitting is a real tough thing to do, but doing it as a unit and as a team is what separates teams from being really good and just good,” Story said. “If you look at the Red Sox, how they did it last year, a lot of balls in play, they didn’t strike out a lot. It just felt like they were playing offense as a team. That’s what it looked like. And they have a ring to show for it.”

Even with set to begin the year as a regular for the first time and with second base a toss-up, it’s likely the Rockies’ lineup will have just one new regular who wasn’t with the team last Spring Training -- free-agent signee  at first base. They did change hitting coaches -- Dave Magadan, formerly with the Red Sox, Padres, Rangers and, for the previous three seasons, D-backs.

So can the major and minor changes the Rockies made during the winter bring them some jewelry?

If you’re looking for a revealing strategy change on Feb. 24 simply because the hitters have a new voice, sorry. Magadan’s familiarizing himself with the younger hitters before the veterans, and the first major strategy meeting has yet to occur.

Besides, he doesn’t have a secret formula.

”There were 17 openings last year,” said Magadan, one of three hitting coaches the D-backs didn’t retain -- which doesn’t seem to be a judgement of their quality, since all are working in the Majors in 2019.

Magadan’s strength is planning strategy. Catcher , who was with Magadan when he played for the D-backs in 2016, said he could deliver detailed and accurate information on the spot and “it would play out like that more times than not. I was like, man, this is easy.”

But Magadan’s duty goes beyond helping one hitter with one at-bat.

”It’s linking all nine hitters in the lineup -- whoever is hitting second is linked to the guy behind him, and the guy behind him and behind him,” Magadan said. “It’s a pass-the-baton mentality that all good teams have, and you’ve got to have now just because of all the information that’s out there about all the hitters.”

Often criticism of individual struggling hitters, usually based on batting average, passes for analysis of a team’s offense. But in a comprehensive team approach, power and run-producing players such as , and Story also are challenged to maximize hitters around them.

”If a pitcher’s purposely trying to pitch around a guy or trying to work his way to a certain guy, you’ve got to let that at-bat go,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “You can’t expand the zone, swing at bad breaking balls, chase pitches out of the zone. Trust the guy behind you to knock them in.”

Blackmon noted that the addition of Murphy could help foster a team-oriented approach, if players are willing to follow his example.

”Our lineup is a very athletic, free-swinging lineup that can really hurt you,” Blackmon said. “And Daniel Murphy is more of a grind-out-an-at-bat kind of guy, chew up a lot of pitches, very disciplined, take-a-lot-of-walks type of approach. It’s good to have a mix of those two types of hitters.”

The development of the regulars is as important as hiring Magadan as a new voice.

“Where these guys have been the last two years -- losing the play-in game, winning the play-in game and getting a taste of what both of them feel like -- they have the confidence,” said , who was the primary first baseman 2016-17 and is back with the club under a Minor League contract.