After graduating from prospect, Tovar puts on a show

May 3rd, 2023

DENVER -- The Rockies had a little bit of everything going for them in their 3-2 series-opening win against the Brewers on Tuesday night at Coors Field, which was a big help for starter Ryan Feltner, who threw five scoreless innings without his best stuff before giving up the Brewers’ only two runs in the sixth. Asked what was working best for him, Feltner had a two-word answer.

“The defense,” he said.

The defense was solid all around, but the standout plays for Colorado came almost exclusively from Ezequiel Tovar at short. Tovar’s highlight-worthy day started with him hitting his first homer of the year, a solo shot in the third to give the Rockies the early lead.

“It's very emotional,” Tovar said through a translator. “I wasn't necessarily going up there trying to do that, but luckily I got my first one, and it’s exciting.”

For the rest of the game, Tovar mostly concerned himself with putting on a clinic at shortstop. He made a beautiful play up the middle, ranging far to reach the ball, then spinning nearly 360 degrees to get a throw off on the bounce to first baseman C.J. Cron and end the inning.

Then with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, Tovar made a hard-to-fathom leaping catch and somehow came down with the rocketed liner off the bat of Rowdy Tellez, who already had two doubles on the night. With the next batter, William Contreras, doubling to center, Tovar likely saved a run with his defense, allowing reliever Pierce Johnson to retire the next two batters and secure the save.

“At the end of the day, defense wins ballgames, and I think that's the most important part [of my game],” Tovar said. “When Contreras hit that double, that runner could have easily scored. We were able to pull it out and keep it close.”

The leap in the ninth looked like pure instinct, but Tovar admitted to finding ways to work on fundamental skills that can help him in an unpredictable situation.

“We definitely don't practice that,” Tovar said. “But in the gym, we definitely do some jumps in there with the force plate, so that kind of helps.”

It was a great start to the next phase of Tovar’s career, as he graduated from his prospect status with his 45th day on the big league roster Monday. He made his debut on Sept. 23 against the Padres, and he has been with the Rockies ever since.

“This is the type of game that you see what he can do,” manager Bud Black said of Tovar. “The long ranging play up the middle. The game-ending play two days ago to get a really quick runner. That was a really good play today, that leap there in the ninth. There's a couple of balls he had to charge, field cleanly and make a good throw against some good runners.

“And then offensively, there's a little bit of sneaky pop there. And he's only 21 years old. That's what we’ve got to keep telling ourselves. He's 21 and not 25 or 26. And he's played much better the last couple of weeks -- a complete game with offense, defensively -- than the first two weeks. So he's doing well.”

Tovar wasn’t a one-man show Tuesday. It was more of a dynamic duo: Ezequiel and Elias. On top of Tovar’s solo home run, Elias Díaz drove home the rest of the runs, going 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the fourth and two RBIs, including the game-winning RBI single in the eighth.

“Right now, I feel great,” Díaz said. “I go day by day, try to do my best and help the team win. Don’t try to do too much, look for a good pitch and have a plan every at-bat.”

Díaz also credited working on his positive attitude during the offseason, making sure he doesn’t let himself get bogged down about struggles. The work has resulted in Díaz hitting at a .330 clip (29-for-88) with three homers and 13 RBIs.

“Offensively, for sure, this is reminiscent of 2021, that second half he had,” Black said. “The average is high, the on-base is high. I still think there are more homers in there, more consistently. Elias is becoming more comfortable and confident with his receiving, his blocking, his game-calling. He's got a cannon. That's showing up in some of the caught-stealing numbers. He's playing really well. He really is.”