DENVER -- Infielder Brendan Rodgers is eager to finally escape the prospect list -- he’s tops on the Rockies’, according to MLB Pipeline -- and make an impact for a struggling team.
“That’s where my mind is at, I’m very confident in myself and the guys are confident in me, so I think I’m going to do a lot of good things,” Rodgers said before his first 2020 start, batting seventh against the Astros on Thursday afternoon.
The Rockies need a better second impression from Rodgers. Last year he hit .224 in 25 games, but played much of that time with a right shoulder labrum injury that required surgery. It was a painful and pedestrian beginning for a player drafted third overall in 2015 who had put up a .296/.352/.503 slash line in the Minors and hit .350 with nine home runs in 37 games at Triple-A Albuquerque last year. The biggest impact of his presence was pushing Ryan McMahon, whose production took off after the competition with Rodgers began.
But last year’s team was headed to 71-91 nowheresville. This year, the Rockies began with an 11-3 mark, but have spent the last week-plus disappointing their mostly stellar starting pitching. With Colorado up against a run of strong opposition starters, and with several key components slumping -- most notably star third baseman Nolan Arenado -- Rodgers living up to billing could help put dreams of making the expanded playoffs back on track.
McMahon is still there, but struggling at .208 heading into Thursday's finale, when he slid to first base while Daniel Murphy served as designated hitter. It’s a lineup the Rockies enthusiastically considered. But despite Rodgers' solid work in Summer Camp, the Rockies deemed he needed time at the alternate training site.
“That doesn’t stop me from working,” said Rodgers, who was called up Wednesday and went 1-for-2 with a two-run single off the bench in a 13-6 loss to the Astros. “Honestly, it’s just a little bit more fuel to the fire.”
What level octane can Rodgers bring? With health compromised last year, Rodgers never displayed his true swing. In Summer Camp, he methodically worked on solid contact where balls were pitched. Manager Bud Black said there is a game-turning swing in there.
“He can power a ball,” Black said. “We’ll see over his career what transpired, but he’s a year older, he had a good offseason to work on his shoulder. Overall, his strength has improved. His stamina has improved. Physically, from our strength coaches and our medical staff, he feels good. So I project power to some extent in Brendan’s career.”
Preparation to do so has been different. Instead of Minor League games against outside competition, Rodgers has had traditional batting practice designed for hitters, “live” batting practice where the pitching is competitive and intrasquad games. Rodgers said he “has always been a self-motivator,” which is good, since he is going from that atmosphere to big league games that count.
He reports being ready to use the swing that put him on the prospect list to get him into the lineup, with impact.
“I definitely feel like my bat speed and everything is on the right path,” Rodgers said. “I feel really strong. I just have to keep putting together quality at-bats, do my job, helping this team win.”
Veteran utility man Chris Owings, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after letting a left hamstring strain heal, reinjured the muscle and was placed on the 10-day injured list on Thursday.
The Rockies also reinstated catcher Elias Díaz from the restricted list, after a team rules/protocol violation Monday, and optioned lefty reliever James Pazos (17.18 ERA in four appearances) to the alternate training site.
Righty Chi Chi González, who made one start (Aug. 3) before going to the IL with right biceps tendinitis, threw two simulated innings at Coors Field on Thursday. Black also said closer Wade Davis, who went on the IL after suffering a right shoulder strain in the home opener, began playing catch Wednesday and is gaining strength.