Notes: Blackmon's cannon; Hilliard focused

April 8th, 2021

DENVER -- Twice during the Rockies’ first homestand against the Dodgers, right fielder fielded sacrifice flies and fired to third to steal an out.

None of this makes him Larry Walker, the Rockies Hall of Fame electee whose throwing wowed the region. But the throws are further proof that Blackmon can hold his own out there defensively.

“It’s just been a couple of situations that have come together,” Blackmon said. “I’m not on pace to throw out 50 runners or whatever.

“It’s really hard to throw people out from the outfield at Coors Field. Anytime you can make an out from the outfield, it’s a big plus for a team defensively because you’re usually playing so much farther.”

The assists are half his total for the full 60-game regular season (427 2/3 innings) last year, and he had just five in 1,178 innings in 2019, his first season in right field.

“Charlie's arm looks as good as we've seen in the last couple of years -- I thought he threw the ball great in Spring Training and that's carried over here in the early part of the season,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

Panned by watchers, experts and even metrics during his later years in center field, Blackmon played solidly in right -- a relatively new position, and one he must play at Coors Field, where the space is huge and the ball flies in funny ways. Last year, with the Gold Glove Awards being based on a formula (the limited schedule prevented managers and coaches from seeing players outside of their division), Blackmon was named a finalist.

Last season, per Fangraphs, Blackmon finished at the break-even point on defensive runs saved (DRS) after finishing at minus-8 in 2019. In 2018, his final season in center, he finished at minus-26.

“The difference for me it’s a completely different visual,” Blackmon said. “All our instincts are off. All the other reads you make right off the bat are no longer relevant.

“I felt like I was an OK outfielder last year. For the most part I did a good job. Playing on the road and coming back home and playing on the road makes it a little bit different. It’s a little tougher in Denver because the ball travels a little bit differently."

Hilliard's hard work
Left-handed-hitting outfielder Sam Hilliard, who sent Tuesday night’s game into extra innings with a homer in the bottom of the ninth, is 2-for-9 on the young season (out of 11 plate appearances). Both hits have been homers. According to Statcast, 40 percent of his batted balls through Tuesday have counted as barrels.

Spring Training was devoted to cutting down the effort in his swing, a problem that led Hilliard to strike out on 36.8 percent of his at-bats last year as a rookie. It’s a long process -- he fanned in 25 of his 57 Spring Training at-bats. Through 11 at-bats heading into Tuesday, that number was four.

The Rockies helped Hilliard stick with his new, quieter swing by emphasizing the process over the stats this spring.

“It’s human nature -- whenever you're struggling, you want to go to what's comfortable,” Hilliard said. “That’s what I’ve had trouble doing throughout my career. I’d go through a rough stretch with striking out, or not getting hits or my effort level is high. Then I’d go back to what’s comfortable with my swing, which to me is not the right way to go about it.

“It’s certainly hard, especially when you are struggling. But you’ve got to remember this is what the best players in the game do. They’re disciplined.”

Forward steps
Righty Germán Márquez fought for command and lasted just four innings on Opening Day. He was better Tuesday against the D-backs. On a cold night, he skated through the first four innings, gave up a run when his command eluded him with two walks in the fifth, then was hurt by Christian Walker’s two-run homer on a 91.3 mph fastball that stayed up in the zone.

For the most part, Márquez resembled the pitcher who has been among the best in the sport the last four years. The homer came on a fastball out of the stretch -- a pitch he hasn’t mastered consistently. It was the right pitch at the right time, as Márquez had noticed that Walker had been leaning for a slider the previous pitch.

“It was good,” Márquez said. “To me, everything was clean -- my delivery was clean. I just missed one pitch.”

A new alternate site
The Rockies announced Wednesday that their alternate training site will move at the end of this week from Double Angel Ballpark in Parker, Colo., to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- where players will train until the Minor League seasons start in May.

Here is the roster:

Pitchers: Ryan Castellani, Phillip Diehl, Lucas Gilbreath, Brian Gonzalez, Joe Harvey, Heath Holder, Justin Lawrence, José Mujica, Dereck Rodríguez, Ryan Rolison, Zac Rosscup, Antonio Santos, Chad Smith, Jesus Tinoco

Catchers: José Briceño, Chris Rabago, Brian Serven

Infielders: Matt Adams, Greg Bird, Jose Gomez, Connor Joe, Eric Stamets, Alan Trejo, Colton Welker

Outfielders: Wynton Bernard, Nick Longhi

Infielder-outfielders Bret Boswell, Ryan Vilade

Injured list: LHP Kyle Freeland (10-day injured list), RHP Peter Lambert (60-day injured list), RHP Scott Oberg (60), INF Brendan Rodgers (10)