Rockies' catching tandem developing nicely

Nuñez, Díaz combine for one-two punch at dish, behind the plate

May 16th, 2021

DENVER -- The National League leaderboards offer positive reinforcement and areas of challenge for Rockies catchers Dom Nuñez and Elias Díaz.

Going into Saturday night’s game against the Reds, Nuñez was second among NL rookies with 18 RBIs, one behind Cincinnati's Jonathan India. Díaz, meanwhile, was leading NL catchers in caught stealing percentage at 85.7, according to STATS Inc.

On the other end, Nuñez entered the game 0-for-15 against runners attempting to steal. And Díaz’s .332 OPS was last among 36 catchers with at least 60 plate appearances.

Nuñez has played more. But Díaz, who joined the Rockies last season after on-again, off-again playing time with the Pirates, was in the lineup Saturday night for the second straight game. Both are being depended upon to a greater degree than at any previous point in their careers, and the Rockies believe both are showing signs of more consistent all-around performance.

“Time will take care of that,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

The development of Díaz’s arm -- he also has a successful pickoff throw that he has attempted enough to keep in baserunners’ minds -- is a testament to using development time wisely and enthusiastically.

While sitting behind Tony Wolters and Drew Butera last year, Díaz -- always in possession of one of the games strongest arms -- worked with bench coach and former Major League catcher Mike Redmond on his footwork and the length of his arm swing. The tandem improvements have been game-changing. His throw to erase the Padres’ Trent Grisham on a steal attempt at third base in the seventh inning helped send the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader into extra innings, which the Rockies won, 3-2.

“I told him that throw he made the other night to third base was probably one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. And I played behind [Ivan] 'Pudge' Rodriguez and Joe Mauer,” Redmond said. “I’m proud of him and he’s worked hard. It’s not easy to make adjustments at the big league level.”

One reason for the increased playing time this week is improved offense. In the opening game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Padres, Díaz came off the bench to hit a sacrifice fly and nearly made the Rockies’ comeback attempt successful. He took closer Mark Melancon to 10 pitches in the seventh inning before his bloop couldn’t find the grass in short right, ending the game.

“Díaz will show a month from now -- his batting average will not be where it is,” Black said.

Nuñez did not appear in a Major League game last year. Although the throwing is an area to improve, Black said that the game-calling, working with pitchers, blocking and fielding are all solid. And with his solid hitting -- especially with runners on base and in scoring position -- the Rockies do not want him to expend all his energy working on throwing before games.

That’s why, Redmond noted, Nuñez is paying particular attention to the throws that he makes down to second base after warming up a pitcher for an inning. Those are nine practice throws that could set him up for an attempted stolen base.

“It’s just getting the right opportunity to where he gets a good pitch to throw on and making a good throw,” Redmond said. “I don’t think there’s anything mechanically wrong. It’s just the confidence of throwing a guy out.”

Freeland will get one more

Lefty Kyle Freeland, who sustained a left shoulder strain on March 23 and has not yet appeared in a Major League game in 2021, was set to throw 60-70 pitches for Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday at El Paso. Black said that the plan is for Freeland to have another start of 70-85 pitches Thursday in Albuquerque against Oklahoma City before the Rockies consider activating him.

Second baseman Brendan Rodgers went 2-for-3 with an RBI during his first rehab game for Albuquerque on Friday. He was in the lineup again Saturday.

Blackmon progressing

The Rockies removed right fielder Charlie Blackmon on Friday with right groin soreness. Black said that Blackmon, who did not start Saturday, was doing better and could possibly pinch-hit.

Santos up, Gilbreath down

The Rockies sent lefty Lucas Gilbreath (10.13 ERA in five games) down to Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday for development time. Righty starter Antonio Santos has been called up for long-relief protection.