DENVER -- During his developing years, Rockies rookie left-hander Ben Bowden could look forward to facing big names in important situations.
The past two nights, it was the Phillies’ Bryce Harper. On Friday, Bowden struck out Harper in a Rockies win. On Saturday, Harper got Bowden with an opposite-field double in the sixth inning, but Bowden escaped the jam in a Colorado loss.
That’s a lot of learning in two at-bats.
“My fastball was playing pretty well to him -- he wasn’t squaring it up,” Bowden said Sunday morning. “Two nights ago, I went up [in the zone] and he got under it, swung and missed.
“Last night was a case of him remembering. He was selling out to the movement. As I was heading toward the plate, he was definitely getting his bat going upward, and he actually got on top of a fastball that was almost out of the zone. You’ve got to tip your cap. The guy made a great adjustment.”
Opportunities have come sporadically. While it would be ideal to find low-leverage situations for Bowden, those have been rare. Going into Sunday’s series finale against the Phillies, the Rockies had played 11 games decided by two or fewer runs (and won only one).
Bowden pitched in two tight games at San Francisco on the previous road trip. He struck out the only batter he faced on April 9. The next day, he issued two damaging walks, then gave up a three-run homer to another recognizable standout -- Brandon Crawford.
After that, Bowden had appeared in only one game before Friday -- a mop-up inning in a 7-0 loss to the Dodgers on April 13. But he had plenty of action, warming up in roughly half the games during that span.
Manager Bud Black loves Bowden’s confidence in his fastball and his generally aggressive approach.
“It’s still early, but the thing that sticks out to me is the mentality,” Black said. “He’s on the attack. He trusts his stuff. He’s going to pitch with his fastball, but the improvement of the secondary pitches will continue as he moves forward. He understands that he just can’t get away with majority fastballs -- not many guys can.
“But the slider is going to come into play, and the changeup to the righty is going to come into play. But what I've noticed is he doesn't scare off.”
“I’m enjoying facing the big-name guys -- it’s fun to a degree, but I’ve got a job to do, and that’s to get them out," said Bowden, who was a second-round Draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2016. "Once I get on the mound, I’m not really thinking about who’s up there.”
Putting motion into action
The season-plus work that catcher Elias Díaz spent sharpening his throwing motion paid off with four standout throws during Saturday's loss to the Phillies. Díaz had played in 250 games over five seasons for the Pirates before signing with the Rockies in 2020, but the learning curve for a catcher can be steep. It took time for Díaz to internalize the shortened arm swing suggested by bench coach and catching instructor Mike Redmond.
“Working with ‘Red’ these past couple of years, we made subtle adjustments,” Díaz said through an interpreter. “My line is better, my arm is shorter and I don’t have to use as much energy to throw. I trust my mechanics when I’m throwing.”
Alternate site update
With the Minor League season starting in early May, many of those waiting in reserve to help the club are either playing in games against players from other alternate training sites or Minor League Spring Training games in Arizona. Black noted that some players who challenged for roster spots late in Spring Training have continued to play well.
“Some of the guys that were in big league camp continue to swing the bat well,” Black said. “Connor Joe is doing fine. He’s back after about a week -- he attended his grandmother's funeral, but he's back and playing and it looks better to play. Ryan Vilade continues to have great at-bats, which he did in Spring Training. Colton Welker the same, doing well.
“On the pitching side, Ryan Rolison is throwing the ball well. Lucas Gilbreath has thrown in a game or two down there, and he’s been fine. Justin Lawrence has pitched outstanding.”
Utility man Chris Owings underwent surgery on his sprained left thumb several days ago, with the operation performed by Dr. Don Sheridan, and the reports have been positive, Black said. Owings was at Coors Field on Sunday.