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McMahon continues push to make 25-man roster

Star prospect, who can play multiple positions, homers to add to strong spring
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan McMahon figured that if a mid-Spring Training signing placed him squarely on the Rockies' roster bubble, and if all eyes would be on him to prove he can hit established Major League pitching, he might as well have fun with it.

For example, McMahon's average stayed near the .400 mark during the first half of Cactus League play, but the true test would be how he would do against top pitchers. The thought of a hit up the middle against Indians' two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, and another off the Brewers' Zach Davies (plus a double off established reliever Ernesto Frieri in the same game) brought a smile to his face.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan McMahon figured that if a mid-Spring Training signing placed him squarely on the Rockies' roster bubble, and if all eyes would be on him to prove he can hit established Major League pitching, he might as well have fun with it.

For example, McMahon's average stayed near the .400 mark during the first half of Cactus League play, but the true test would be how he would do against top pitchers. The thought of a hit up the middle against Indians' two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, and another off the Brewers' Zach Davies (plus a double off established reliever Ernesto Frieri in the same game) brought a smile to his face.

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"I don't know if I'm measuring myself against them; I'm kind of excited," said McMahon, 23, who hit .355 with a .403 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage in 119 total games at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last year before going 3-for-19 in 24 spaced-out Major League plate appearances. "I had a lot of fun when I faced Kluber.

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"I had a good time with it, felt I was challenging myself at the plate. I got a knock off him and said, 'Yeah, that feels good.' And facing Davies the other day, these are guys you hear about all the time. It's more fun."

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It's certainly more fun than worrying about a decision he can't make.

McMahon didn't get his chance against a frontline pitcher Monday night against the Rangers, who scratched Tony Barnette because of lower back tightness. The Rangers went with righty Adrian Sampson, and McMahon took full advantage, hitting an opposite-field, two-run homer off Sampson in the third inning.

McMahon, the No 2 prospect in the Rockies' organization according to MLB Pipeline, began the Cactus League schedule receiving daily chances to prove he could handle being the regular first baseman -- especially succeeding defensively at a position he adopted in 2016 after being drafted as a third baseman.

Video: McMahon on his spring, Black on slugger's approach

"'Skip' actually called me into his office and told me that he's proud of the way I've been playing first base, which meant a lot to me," McMahon said.

But Carlos Gonzalez re-signing last week and Gerardo Parra returning from a hand injury pushed Ian Desmond from left field to first base. Suddenly, McMahon went from having a clear shot to start to potentially getting irregular playing time in the Majors or possibly being sent down.

"It was cool to have 'CarGo' back; he's a great dude to have around. Everybody loves having him here, he's great for the locker room and a helluva player," McMahon said.

Still, Black continues to feed McMahon regular at-bats, sometimes at first base, sometimes at third and even as a designated hitter.

Could this be a way of building McMahon's playing time to jump-start him for daily starts at Triple-A? Or could McMahon usurp one of the reserve outfielders and make the Major League club as a part-time starter, with Desmond moving to the outfield when McMahon starts?

Video: Rodgers and McMahon hope to make an impact in 2018

"I think if I play well, hopefully Jeff [Bridich, the general manager] and Bud will want to have me on the team, but they've got to do what's best for the team," McMahon said.

Injury update

Righty reliever Carlos Estevez, whose strong September/October (3.86 ERA, 12 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings) made him a key bullpen member, will miss the start of the regular season. He bent over to pick up a ball on a cold February morning and suffered a strained oblique, and last week suffered a relapse. Estevez, who has one appearance this spring, said Monday he's rebuilding his throwing program but won't be ready for Opening Day.

Roster moves

Righty Yency Almonte (No. 10-rated Rockies prospect) and lefty Sam Howard (No. 17), who were roughed up by the Giants on Sunday but are considered important depth pieces, were optioned to Minor League camp on Monday. Both are expected to start at Triple-A.

Position competition

• Outfielder David Dahl, who is trying to force his way into regular big league time rather than be sent to Albuquerque, went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Two other outfielders who have experience in the Majors as backups also had big nights. Mike Tauchman went 2-for-3 with his fourth spring triple, and Raimel Tapia went 1-for-2 off the bench.

Finding the barrel

Infielder Pat Valaika, playing for the second consecutive game after missing time with a left oblique injury, went 2-for-3 with a double. On-site tracking had the exit velocity of the double at 107 mph.

Up next

Lefty Tyler Anderson will start, and bullpen competitors Jairo Diaz and Zac Rosscup also are scheduled to pitch against the Brewers at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick for a 2:10 p.m. MT start on Tuesday afternoon.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Ryan McMahon