'Great feeling': Rodgers hits first MLB homer

June 6th, 2021

DENVER -- Over the past few years, has had a lot of unwanted time to think.

“Going through injuries, you definitely think about little things when you have a lot of time on your hands and aren’t playing,” Rodgers said after the Rockies lost to the A’s, 6-3, on Saturday night at Coors Field. “I did think about it here and there.”

Rodgers, now in his third season getting at-bats at the big league level, was referring to what his first Major League home run would be like. And in the seventh inning on Saturday, imagination became reality.

As lightning flashed across the night sky beyond the left-field foul pole, Rodgers launched a two-run homer off the top of the center-field wall on the first pitch he saw from Oakland left-hander Jesús Luzardo.

It was a moment years in the making -- a left hamstring injury slowed Rodgers while he was at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2018, he had season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in July '19, and he missed the first seven weeks of this season with a right hamstring strain.

Sprinkle in struggles at the plate whenever he did get into the lineup, and it made for what seemed like a state of perpetual frustration for Rodgers and Rockies fans who anticipated his ascent to the Majors.

“It was just a long time coming,” Rodgers said. “Almost 150 at-bats (137). … It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders for sure, getting that one out of the way.”

The Rockies selected Rodgers third overall in the 2015 MLB Draft. He hit .298/.354/.504 over 392 Minor League games and was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the organization, per MLB Pipeline. Three days shy of the sixth anniversary of his Draft selection, he went deep for the first time in a Major League game.

That was as good as it would get for Colorado. Left-hander Kyle Freeland made his third start of the season after coming off the injured list in late May, and his first home start since Sept. 17, 2020. He wasn’t sharp, giving up five runs on 10 hits, walking one and striking out one on 80 pitches (49 strikes).

Raimel Tapia scored the Rockies’ first run of the night in the first inning, stretching a ground ball into right-center-field into a double and coming around to score on a Charlie Blackmon infield single. Tapia then made a tremendous 93.9 mph throw to nab A’s catcher Aramis Garcia at the plate in the second.

But ultimately, this night belonged to Rodgers. Manager Bud Black has seen a lot of firsts among teammates and players he’s coached or managed over the last several decades. And as a manager of an inexperienced club, one of his chief objectives is to shepherd players into everyday roles in the Majors. He said the first home run is part of a bigger story each time, and Rodgers’ case is no exception.

“When you look at a player’s career -- coming to big league camp for the first time, rubbing shoulders with DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Carlos González, great players, that’s a progression,” Black said. “You get your first hit in a Spring Training game -- progression. You work your way through the Minor Leagues, you get to the big leagues. Your first day in the big leagues -- what a great feeling that is when you get that call. Your first start, and then ultimately, your first hit. And then your first homer.”

As for where the first home run ranked in that progression, Rodgers said it was at the top of all his firsts.

“My first Major League hit was definitely awesome as well,” he said. “But it was a little chopper to third, so this one is definitely helping me breathe a little bit more now.”

Breathing easier was a theme throughout Rodgers’ comments as well as his manager’s.

“It’s a great feat to hit a home run in a big league ballgame,” Black said. “Looking at his progression over the last three years, I think he’s been pressing a little bit. … All these little feats he’s marking, I think those help players exhale.”

Rodgers has had the added pressure of great expectations and little to show for his efforts in the earliest years of his career, largely because of factors outside of his control. But perhaps he is finally breathing a bit easier now.

“It was a huge relief,” Rodgers said. “I almost kind of blacked out running around the bases. I finally caught my breath before I went back out on defense.

“It was a great feeling.”