ST. LOUIS -- Baseball offers only brief respites from the failure it heaps upon even its most accomplished practitioners. Rockies left fielder Connor Joe found the game to be pretty good to him at the start of the season, but the second-half struggles have been almost relentless.
On Wednesday, a night after he had a hit and a walk, he struck out three times in Colorado’s 5-1 loss to the National League Central-leading Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Before going any further, by no means is this an indictment of Joe, who went 0-for-4 in this loss and worked his way into regular playing time at the start of the year. The Rockies’ 51-68 record tells you he has plenty of company.
In the afternoon, between his weight-bearing workout and batting practice, Joe was realistic but upbeat about his struggles -- now 17-for-99 (.172) since July 1 and 4-for-45 in 13 games after the All-Star break to drag his batting average to .241. The slump is part, but not all, of the reason that manager Bud Black reduced Joe’s playing time and dropped him from the leadoff spot.
“It’s getting a lot better,” said Joe, who made a strong throw to nab Lars Nootbaar at third base in the eighth on Brendan Donovan's RBI double. “Obviously not getting in the lineup every day for the last couple weeks, that’s no excuse. I’ve been doing a lot of work off the velocity machine, trying to jump in on guys’ bullpen sessions to track. That’s helped a lot. I got to face a couple guys in their simulated games, so I got reps that way.”
The last at-bat on Wednesday was one that illustrated how much work Joe still has to go. Cardinals reliever Andre Pallante fell behind 3-0 against Joe, then he fired three strikes -- none of which elicited a swing.
Colorado’s fourth straight loss did not fall on Joe’s shoulders any more than anyone else. Brendan Rodgers (hitting well these days) and C.J. Cron (scuffling) hit into double plays with big chances, and Ryan McMahon struck out four times.
The Rockies wasted six reasonable innings from starter Germán Márquez (three runs on seven hits and three walks to go with four strikeouts) the way they squandered similarly passable work from Kyle Freeland in Tuesday night’s 5-4 series-opening loss to the Cards.
Joe, 30, a first-round pick (39th overall) for the Pirates in the 2014 MLB Draft, took the long route to a brief debut with the Giants in ‘19 before finding significant time with the Rockies in ‘21. He was slashing .277/.374/.399 through June 30 before the backslide.
“The thing with Connor, the offensive component, is the selectivity -- the ability to take the walk, the on-base percentage component to his game, and also the hit tool that has been a little bit light of late,” Black said. “But like [Tuesday] night, when he got an opposite-field hit and a really good at-bat that resulted in a walk can jumpstart him.”
When Joe wasn’t in the lineup but working behind the scenes, the Rockies wanted him to clear his mind.
“His strength is knowing the strike zone -- swinging at strikes, getting into a good hitter’s count without being so worried about how he’s pitched,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “He went through a period of time, for about 100 at-bats, where he was concerned with how he was getting pitched and getting outside his strike zone, with weak contact swinging at balls off the plate.”
Last season, Joe finished solidly after bouncing between Triple-A and the Majors. But playing strictly in the Majors is more taxing, and pain has clearly been a component in the downturn, although he doesn’t blame that.
Still, Joe sat for three games in July because of what Black called “general soreness” after landing on his shoulder while trying to make a diving play in Milwaukee during the Rockies’ first series after the All-Star break. Joe had just four at-bats in the team’s most-recent homestand.
“It’s nothing more than what everyone’s dealing with, and everyone’s a little banged up in August,” Joe said. “But other than that, I feel good. I feel healthy for it being August. It’s a testament to my workout, my routine.
“I’m trying to not succumb to the struggles. It’s easy to just say, ‘Oh, man, I’m struggling. I can’t wait for next season.’ That’s something that in baseball could happen, especially in the Minor Leagues because it’s more developmental. But we’re trying to win every day. Finishing strong is huge.”