DENVER -- Rockies rookie shortstop Ezequiel Tovar regularly shows his brilliance out of the earshot of those not on the field or in the dugout.
“Like during mound visits late in tight games, he’ll ask infield positioning questions,” manager Bud Black recalled recently. “‘Do you want the infield in here? Do you want us back? Do you want us at double-play depth?’ The questions are predicated on the score, who’s at third base.
“In-game, he asks the right questions, and he comments on the right things. Never have I said, ‘That’s a stupid question.’ They’re questions that me, [third-base coach] Warren Schaeffer or [bench coach] Mike Redmond ask each other when making a decision in the dugout.”
But Tovar, 22, proved again on Saturday afternoon that he can put his special qualities on display for all to see. The offense was quiet until Tovar lashed a three-run triple in the third inning and finished with a career-high four RBIs in a 9-5 victory over the Giants in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Coors Field.
Tovar went 2-for-3 with a double, two runs scored, a steal and a sacrifice bunt in Game 2, a 5-2 victory that secured the Rockies' first doubleheader sweep of the Giants in franchise history.
Charlie Blackmon tripled and doubled, Kris Bryant drove in two runs and Tyler Kinley pitched out of loaded bases with two down in the ninth as the Rockies ran their win streak to five games -- their longest of the season.
Tovar ranks fourth in the National League in games played at shortstop, having played 140 games at the position after Saturday's twin bill. He’ll fall just short of Troy Tulowitzki’s club rookie shortstop record of 155 in 2007. Tovar entered the day leading qualified NL rookies in doubles (32) and was top three in hits, extra-base hits and RBIs.
As the season progressed, the Rockies introduced a dynamic class of rookies. Outfielders Nolan Jones and Brenton Doyle have opened eyes defensively and with their speed, and Jones in particular with his offensive contributions.
Tovar was not only the starter from Opening Day, but his tangible and intangible abilities have thrust him into a ringleader position in this burgeoning iteration of Rockies baseball. The pivot to youth has caused pain. But at least during this next-to-last homestand of the season, the Rockies have hurt contending teams by taking two of three from the Cubs and the first three in a four-game series against the Giants that ends on Sunday.
A season can be taxing for anyone. Tovar, who didn’t turn 22 until Aug. 1, demonstrated fatigue in a recent 3-for-28 stretch. But he rose to the occasion of playing spoiler by going 8-for-15 in five victories over the Cubs and Giants.
Tovar is doing it with a steadiness that could serve the Rockies well should they find themselves in contention in a future season.
“It’s a process, right?” Tovar said recently, with bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz interpreting. “This team is learning how to win. I look forward to it. When it clicks together at the end of all this, I can see that happening. It’s what we look forward to, and what we expect.”
When Tovar is swinging well, the Rockies have come to expect hits like the triple -- which was driven to the opposite gap and off the right-center wall -- off Giants starter Keaton Winn. While he can do damage to the pull side, as his solid home run total (15) suggests, the inside-out swing keeps him consistent.
“We’re seeing it on a pretty regular basis, the incremental improvements in the total game,” Black said between Saturday’s games. “There was a stretch for 20 to 25 at-bats where the chase was a little bit more, and that will happen. That’s where the improvement has to come, in the gap between the batting average and the on-base, and that results from being a little more selective.
“That was a big swing there. That was a momentum-changer for us and the game. He got another good hit later in the game, too, and played a good game at short. He continues to impress in all areas.”
Part of the Rockies’ learning curve is handling the twists of a lengthy season -- one that saw them unload many of their veterans before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. Tovar, of course, was ahead in temperament. His wife, Laura, and he welcomed their first child, a boy named Luciano, on Father’s Day, June 18. Tovar wears a blue glove on the field for his son -- but tries not to bring baseball home to him.
“Good, bad or whatever it may be, I leave it after the game,” Tovar said. “I try not to take it home with me. It’s not my style. Every game is different, so you take away whatever you can from the game and move on.”