KANSAS CITY -- Fans arrive at Kauffman Stadium knowing they are likely to enjoy one of the game’s best young shortstops. Over the weekend, however, Rockies rookie Ezequiel Tovar showed that there was more than one new-breed shortstop in town.
Tovar, 21, came away impressed with Witt, who turns 23 in less than two weeks.
“I didn’t know him before, but man he is really good,” Tovar said. “But I don’t compete. I just compete with myself.”
On Friday, Tovar battled the wind to catch an infield pop and doubled a straying Witt off first base.
Tovar added a double as part of a six-run eighth inning in a 7-2 Rockies victory.
Tovar also went 2-for-3 in Saturday’s 6-4 victory and doubled for one of the Rockies’ eight hits in their 2-0 series finale loss.
Tovar’s impact is growing. From Opening Day to April 25, Tovar struggled to a .187/.247/.240 slash line with four doubles, seven RBIs and 25 strikeouts in 22 games. But the Rockies’ commitment to Tovar as the shortstop of their next phase never wavered.
Since April 26, he has rewarded them by slashing .285/.325/.504 with 13 doubles, a triple and four home runs.
Laying off the low-and-outside breaking ball is still a work in progress, as evidenced by his 36 strikeouts in the 35-game period. But the team is 17-18 in those games. One reason is Tovar’s offensive impact, not to mention his increasingly comfortable glovework, to lead an infield that has improved dramatically since the first month.
Two confidence-building actions -- one seen, one unseen -- in the last week and a half have propelled Tovar.
Tovar provided the walk-off single in a 7-6 home victory over the Marlins on May 25. Before the next game, against Mets star Max Scherzer, hitting coach Hensley Meulens felt there was a breakthrough. Tovar drew two walks against Scherzer and has had 12 hits, including a home run and six doubles, in the nine games since.
“Working with ‘Bam Bam’ [Meulens] the plan has always been the same -- he wants me to maintain my aggressiveness throughout the whole approach, but communicating with him and having the right game plan,” Tovar said.
The best endorsement from manager Bud Black is Tovar has so lived up to the scouting reports on his maturity that “we sort of take it for granted.” Then Tovar reminds him by making easy work of difficult plays, like this chopper he handled to throw out the D-backs’ speedy Jake McCarthy.
But Black believes Tovar will be one of the new shortstops that folks will appreciate for years to come.
“There was a generation of shortstops a couple of decades ago -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra … I’m missing some, but they were Hall of Fame-type players,” Black said. “Now there’s an influx of new young shortstops, with our guy, Witt, and we’ll see the guy the Yankees have, Anthony Volpe.
“There are some good ones. Our guy is going to be right there with them all.”