DENVER -- Ryan McMahon made major strides in 2019 in his first season as primarily a second baseman, but he’s willing to pick up his first base mitt again to help the Rockies deal with 2020 realities.
Plans for baseball’s return next month following a shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic call for National League teams to use the designated hitter in all games. McMahon playing first could allow for manager Bud Black to use veteran Daniel Murphy as designated hitter.
Murphy signed a two-year contract with the Rockies before last season and took first base -- a position he played adequately in past years, although much of his career was spent at second base. However, Murphy fractured his left index finger during the first series of the season and had a disjointed year at the plate and on the field.
But McMahon realizes that when something unprecedented happens -- and a pandemic wiping out much of a season certainly would qualify -- you have to be ready and willing to adjust. It helps that he has been staying fresh at first base all along.
“They haven’t said anything specifically like that,” McMahon said recently. “Buddy will remind me from time to time to hop over to first and third, to stay fresh at those spots. I feel good at all three, and I think Buddy has confidence at all three, so I’m sure that could lead to some sort of lineup shuffling with the DH now.”
The team has plenty of options, with left-handed-hitting outfielders Raimel Tapia and Sam Hilliard, and right-handed hitting infielders Chris Owings, Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers all seeking playing time. Additionally, the Rockies could reduce some wear and tear on right fielder Charlie Blackmon by using him at DH.
By keeping McMahon at second base and Murphy at first, the Rockies could face right-handed pitching with as many as seven lefty hitters, if Raimel Tapia or Sam Hilliard start in left field. Right-handed power in such a lineup would come from a couple of stars -- third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story.
During Spring Training, McMahon played 48 innings at second base (most on the team) and four innings at first base. One reason was Murphy reported to camp healthy. Not only were there no remnants of his hand injury, but Murphy reported to camp lighter and more nimble. A 2017 knee surgery that shortened his 2018 and affected his postseason conditioning has fully healed.
McMahon knows to be ready if first base becomes part of his present (to accommodate Murphy as DH) or his future (to accommodate someone such as Rodgers, a middle infielder who is the team’s top-rated prospect, per MLB Pipeline). Can he have the same potential for impact at first base, where he played while breaking in during the 2018 season, that he has shown at second?
“I do think I can, but it’ll be on our coaches to keep me fresh and tuned up at both positions,” McMahon said.