1st-time All-Star Dahl stays on tear with big HR

July 1st, 2019

DENVER -- When arrived to Coors Field on Sunday morning, Rockies manager Bud Black directed the outfielder's attention to a television that was playing a recording of the annual MLB All-Star Game Red Carpet show.

“Bud asked me if I’ve ever watched that,” Dahl said. “I said, ‘Yeah.’

“Then he said, ‘You’re going to be in it this year. You made it.' Then, he had a lot of good things to say. We hugged. It was awesome.”

With that, Black relayed to Dahl his first All-Star Game invitation. Reserves were announced Sunday, with Dahl, outfielder Charlie Blackmon and shortstop Trevor Story joining third baseman Nolan Arenado, who was elected as a starter. Dahl continued the celebration, as much as possible, with a three-run homer in the Rockies’ 10-5 loss to the Dodgers at Coors Field.

Dahl’s homer to right field off left-hander Zac Rosscup gave the Rockies a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning. The advantage evaporated in the sixth, when struggling reliever Chad Bettis struck out the first man he faced, then allowed five hits, a walk and a hit by pitch in a six-run frame for the Dodgers. The four-game series split left the Rockies, second in the National League West, 12 games behind the Dodgers.

But the warm hugs in the manager’s office, and the realization of a red carpet dream, are light years away from a May afternoon in Pittsburgh, when Dahl’s season was not quite as bright.

Here’s the background:

Dahl, 24, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, went through numerous injuries early in his career -- to his hamstring, a ruptured spleen and, after a bright Major League debut in 2016, a rib and back issue that cost him all of '17.

Finally healthy at the end of last year, Dahl hit nine homers while helping lift the Rockies into the postseason. But with greater expectations, he wanted more. So, he adjusted his swing by lowering his hands in his stance, a move that unlocked power and production for the D-backs’ David Peralta.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan and assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar, who first worked with Dahl at Double-A New Britain in 2015, questioned Dahl at first, but the move worked and his batting average hovered around .300 through the middle of May. But Dahl struck out 11 times in 22 at-bats over five games at Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to drop his average to .288. And he had only three home runs.

“I feel my hands were getting pretty low, and they weren’t doing what I wanted,” Dahl said. “I was susceptible to swinging through a lot of pitches I should hit, and I was crunching a little too much.”

Not in the starting lineup against the Pirates on May 22, Dahl requested side-by-side video of himself at that point against himself during hot streaks dating back to the Minors. Then, he hit in the cage. That night, he delivered a pinch-hit double.

Salazar credited Dahl’s initiative and ability to learn and apply, but added, “One at-bat, he gets a hit -- for all I know it might not have been any of that [information]. It might’ve been confidence.”

Since then, Dahl has hit .322 with nine home runs, 13 other extra-base hits, 37 RBIs and a 1.008 OPS.

And the Rockies are 23-15 over that stretch. Fellow outfielder Charlie Blackmon thinks the trip to Progressive Field in Cleveland for the July 9 All-Star Game will propel Dahl further.

“Your first All-Star Game is super memorable,” said Blackmon, who last year began sitting beside Dahl on the team plane and passing along his knowledge. “It’s incredible to be in that room associated with all those really good players. Now that David has become a part of that group, he can look back and appreciate what he has done. He’s worked really hard in the offseason, learned a lot about his body and how to stay on the field, how to do well against left-handed pitching.

“There’s so much that goes into it. It’s really nice to be recognized.”

Arenado, Dahl's batting-practice partner last season, was delighted that fellow players voted Dahl into the All-Star Game.

“I hope he understands that people appreciate his game and respect his game -- that’s really meaningful,” Arenado said.

Was Sunday a sign of more? The homer was only the fourth to Dahl's pull side this year. Once he is pulling with power, that total should soar.

But he was soaring enough Sunday.