Blackmon looking to find power stroke

Blackmon helps power Tuesday's win over Padres with two-run shot

August 18th, 2021

DENVER – Opportunity met execution Monday night, and Rockies right fielder delivered a blast from the past -- a 438-foot, two-run homer to center field off a left-on-left fastball from Ryan Weathers in the Rockies’ 6-5 victory over the fastball.

Blackmon, a few years ago counted on for 30 or so homers a year, has gone at a slower pace this year -- but he may be picking up. Tuesday night, Blackmon hit another two-run shot, again on a fastball and again left-on-left (against the Padres' Tim Hill), in the Rockies' 7-3 victory. It was his ninth homer of the season, and marked the first time he has gone deep in consecutive games.

Blackmon is batting .269 after a 1-for-4 performance Tuesday, but his average is muted by his slow first month. From May 5, the first day his batting average climbed above .200, Blackmon has slashed .293/.366/.424 over 86 games covering 333 plate appearances. Over that period, Blackmon has 30 walks against just 40 strikeouts.

So two of the offensive traits that have helped him to four All-Star Game appearances -- the average and the batting eye -- are at solid levels. And expect Blackmon to remain. He holds has a player option worth $21 million for next season, and one worth at least $10 million for the following season in '23.

With or without power, Blackmon has value. On a team that struggles mightily away from Coors, his OPS numbers are close -- .757 at home after Tuesday, .750 on the road.

The question is will Blackmon, 35, return a measure of his past power, or will the Rockies have to value his high OBP and low strikeouts?

Part of what helped Blackmon turn the corner is he decided to sacrifice power. A thinking man’s hitter who adjusts to how he is being pitched, Blackmon is seeing fewer fastballs than ever.

Entering Tuesday, Blackmon has seen fastballs at a far lower rate than in any career season, and it’s not close.

Even more so, Blackmon said he’s not seeing fastballs in counts when he used to expect them.

“If you're more likely to not get a fastball and fastball situations, it's hard to be really, really aggressive,” Blackmon said.

Baseball-wide, fastball usage has dropped. But part of how Blackmon is being pitched is rooted in the Rockies’ current lineup.

In his most powerful years, Blackmon batted leadoff with DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story behind him. The Rockies dropped Blackmon to the third and fourth spots last season. This year, with Story largely struggling and C.J. Cron just recently on a power surge, there was little reason to challenge Blackmon.

Last year, Blackmon was the talk of baseball when his average was above .400 early in the shortened season. But with Arenado struggling and not much help around Blackmon, pitchers dropped their fastball rate against him -- from 58.8 percent while he was .400 and above to 55.5 percent the rest of the way, a significant falloff.

“Where you hit in the order to some extent is how you are going to be pitched,” Blackmon said. “The top 1, maybe 2, you don’t want to walk those guys because you’ve got the boppers coming up next. If you’re hitting in the middle of the order.

“The down-the-order guys are going to be capable hitters, but, I guess, I’d rather face guys down the order with runners on base than middle of the order with runners on base. ‘I’m not going to lay a fastball in there whether that guy is swinging good or bad.'”

The overall numbers say Blackmon isn’t hitting the fastball as well as in the past. He went into Tuesday at .292 against heaters – but since breaking in as a regular in 2014 he has not finished a year below .299. The expected numbers are down, also.

That’s a concerning picture. However, could this be the tale of his two seasons? Before May 5, when he had not reached .200, he had a .278 batting average and .361 slugging percentage against fastballs. Since then, the numbers have been .325 and .444, respectively.

“Pitchers know who our key guys are, who they’re going to be tough on,” manager Bud Black said. “And he started to just take what they gave him. If they’re pitching him down and away, there are more base hits to left field. If they try to crowd him with the fastball, hard in, he picks his spot and tries to pull the ball. Playing the thinking man’s game was part of Charlie’s resurgence.”

Black noted his last two homers, one to left and Tuesday’s to center, were “very encouraging.” While Black didn’t predict Blackmon would or wouldn’t see his power return, he didn’t close that door -- especially if the Rockies add at least two big bats, which everyone within the club believes is a must this winter.

“Is he going to hit 37 home runs again and knock in 100 runs? I don’t know,” Black said. “A lot of it is a function of who you have around you. But Charlie still has home run power. We’ve seen recent players like Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey [veterans for the National League West-leading Giants] that have had a renaissance this year as guys who are a little bit older.

“It can happen.”