DENVER -- C.J. Cron's return has sparked questions about how manager Bud Black will handle with his daily lineup, as well as general manager Bill Schmidt's strategy for the five weeks leading to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.
Cron, who returned from a back injury that had cost him six weeks, went 0-for-3 and grounded into a double play as the designated hitter in Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Dodgers at Coors Field. The hope is he will shake his pre-injury doldrums -- with the last of his six home runs coming April 30 (43 at-bats ago) -- and add experience and power to a lineup that has trended young because of injuries.
However, the Rockies’ 31-50 record at the official midpoint (never have they lost 100 games in any of their 30 seasons) may dictate that young is the way to go.
Tuesday’s decisions were easy. Cron, who usually plays first base, and Elehuris Montero, who has played first base passably since returning from Triple-A Albuquerque, fit in a mostly right-handed lineup against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Of course, Kershaw held anyone the Rockies put up against him to one hit and one walk while facing the minimum 18 through six innings.
But before the game, Cron, Montero and left-handed-hitting Nolan Jones -- who had been starting in right field, but not Tuesday to avoid left-on-left vs. Kershaw -- took turns practicing at first.
Jones has played mostly right field with Kris Bryant out with a left foot injury. But Bryant will begin his injury rehab assignment at Albuquerque on Wednesday and isn’t far from returning. And left-handed-hitting DH Charlie Blackmon is in the healing stages from his right hand injury.
So there is experience back or on its way. However, Jones (.316 with five homers in 29 games) has earned regular playing time. He walked as a pinch-hitter Tuesday during a ninth inning that ended with an Elias Díaz flyout to the deepest part of the park.
Montero has power potential, but struggled at the plate (.202 after an 0-for-3 Tuesday). The Rockies’ season points to them needing to test Michael Toglia, who was brought up on Sunday but yo-yoed back to Albuquerque after that game.
Here’s a look at first base, and other related crowded situations around the field:
Cron, an All-Star last year, said he has steadily regained strength and confidence swinging the bat since a setback early in his rehab.
“Hitting was one of my earliest progressions I was OK with,” he said. “It was more the lateral movements, the running, the jamming [into the bag]. It’s the other stuff I need to get confident in. That’ll come.”
Black said, “He’s ready to play, but with the DH, it helps him get back into the swing of things.”
After struggling at third to start the season, Montero has made some strong plays at first recently -- the latest a spinning grab to start a first-to-second double play on a Mookie Betts grounder in the seventh.
“In the field, we’ve seen a little bit more confidence, more sure-handedness,” Black said. “It’s looking more like a Major League first baseman -- his jumps, his reads, his hands and just around the bag. The coaches and I think there’s a little more offense in there.”
Montero has played steadily since his recall, but needs to turn hot to ensure more chances. The same can be said for the switch-hitting Toglia, who has 13 Triple-A homers and has hit .240 at Albuquerque. He has a .174 average in 10 Major League games.
With Jones, the answer is simple
“Nolan’s going to play,” said Black, who noted that, if necessary, Jones can play right field, DH and even spell Ryan McMahon at third base to stay in the lineup as Cron, Bryant and Blackmon return.
The quiet part …
Schmidt and the Rockies took local criticism for not making a move at last year’s Trade Deadline (they claimed now-released pitcher Dinelson Lamet shortly thereafter).
Schmidt reached a two-year contract with potential trade candidate Daniel Bard, an effective reliever. Cron seemed like a swap candidate after his 2022 All-Star appearance and with a club-friendly contract. However, Cron, who was hit on his hand with a pitch just before the All-Star Game, batted .197 in the second half of last season -- not the production contending teams wanted.
Schmidt on Saturday traded corner infielder Mike Moustakas to the Angels, for High-A right-handed pitcher Connor Van Scoyoc, and to enhance opportunity for younger players.
By getting hot at the plate, Cron can hit himself into a playoff race while younger players still in Colorado get a bigger slice of playing time.