Rockies take to situational hitting in first workout
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss emphasized effort and execution in his first meeting with the squad before Sunday's first full-squad workout. But they're just words until the principles are put into practice. New hitting coach Blake Doyle is putting Weiss' address into practice, literally.
Doyle, who took over after Dante Bichette left after one season to spend more time with his family, placed baseballs into a pitching machine that would spit them out with different breaking and sinking actions. But a second before he put the ball into the machine, he would shout out a situation:
"Hit and run."
"Get 'em over."
"Infield back [runner on third]."
The hitter had to adjust his swing to the situation.
Doyle said the drill will be incorporated into many Spring Training drills and batting practice throughout the season. He said the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer, who won last year's National League batting title, has devoted his second round of all batting practice to situational hitting throughout his career, and many veterans do the same.
Doyle gave Weiss baseball lessons when he was in high school and taught future and current pros for many years at a facility in Florida he ran with his brothers -- former Major Leaguers Denny and Brian Doyle. He worked with the Rockies on a rotating basis last year, and he understands the issues the team struggled with last season.
In the drill, the situation changes from pitch to pitch, which Doyle said helps players concentrate on the swing.
"The stroke's gotta change," Doyle said. "That stuff starts when they're in the hole in the dugout, looking at the situation they might be put into. Then they get on deck and the situation changes."
The issue is crucial for a team, even though the youth of some players could make it difficult to give at-bats to the team. Young regulars like third baseman Nolan Arenado, catcher Wilin Rosario and second basemen DJ LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge could feel pressure from the inevitable batting average ups and downs, and must fight that to measure their worth in team goals.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said he had to find that balance in 2007 when he was with the Rockies' team that went to the World Series.
"Defensively, that's where my head was at," Tulowitzki said. "I knew I wasn't a finished product offensively. We had such a good offensive team and I knew I didn't have to carry the load. Hopefully, these young guys can say the same thing.
"It depends on the individual. You get some guys here that are advanced and have high baseball IQ, and other guys learn along the way."
Arenado, who turns 23 on April 16, hit .267 last season as a rookie but felt he left opportunities for RBIs or advancing runners behind.
"What I did a little bit last year but what I didn't do consistent enough was slow the game down and look for my pitches," Arenado said. "I'll have a better chance of success than I did last year.
"I know I can play here, and when I've had my best years, I've never thought about numbers. I had my best streaks or good months and people ask what I did, and I just know I hit the ball hard."
Rosario, 25, has hit .277 since breaking in with the Rockies in 2011 and has 52 homers. His 49 in the last two years are the most of any Major League catcher. To further cement his offensive reputation, however, Rosario will have to improve a .309 on-base percentage. Last year's .315 was a career high, but Buster Posey's .377 career number and Yadier Molina's improvement in OBP are traits Rosario can emulate if he can balance his aggressiveness with selectivity.
"I know with the guys in front of me there will be traffic for me, so I'll be aggressive and have fun," he said. "But if I've got to walk, I'll walk. If they pitch to me, I'll hit it, one or the other. I have to consistently bring a good approach."
Weiss said, "It's playing hard and playing right, and playing right falls under the heading of our execution."