Bryant flashes potential, but still off track

Rockies right fielder rips 107.2 mph single before striking out 3 times

May 31st, 2023

PHOENIX -- For a moment in Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field, the Rockies’  found the express route to his proper swing.

Bryant led off the second inning with a hard single to center off dominant Arizona starter . The 107.2 mph exit velocity was Bryant’s highest since a 108.8 mph double on Opening Day.

However, Bryant entered in a 3-for-31 (.097) skid over his past nine games -- and just 15-for-76 (.197) in his previous 20 contests. He acknowledged struggling to steer himself right.

“I’m kind of on the train track, and then I’m kind of off the train track,” Bryant said. “And sometimes, you can’t even see the train tracks. I’m somewhere in between there.”

Maybe the swing that’s lost is now found. Bryant struck out twice against Gallen, but that may have been no indication on a night when Gallen fanned seven in six scoreless innings. The Rockies had five hits and numerous hard-hit balls against Gallen, but he's 6-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts over 41 innings in six starts at Chase Field this season.

But Bryant also struck out against reliever Scott McGough. Until Bryant is hitting balls hard with consistency and driving in runs (another missing trait), his bat is considered in the wilderness.

The current results are problematic, but Bryant is in the second season of a seven-year, $182 million contract for a reason. He hit well previously with the Cubs, and briefly with the Giants, but he has had what he calls “40-, 50-, maybe even 60-at bat stretches where you just feel weird up there.”

But it’s weird in a concerning way when the team’s biggest free-agent signing is hitting .263 (down considerably from his .309 average through May 4), with five home runs and 17 RBIs (seventh on the team).

He is accomplished enough to be secure in explaining the mental vulnerability.

“Like, every interview, baseball players say the same cliche things, like, ‘Trust the process, be patient, it’s ups and downs,’” Bryant said. “To a certain extent, that’s true. But sometimes, you’re going crazy, like, ‘Give me something I can be happy with.’”

The Rockies have dropped the first two of the four-game set in Arizona, but they won seven of their previous 10 series. The offense has picked up, and third baseman Ryan McMahon -- even more lost than Bryant to start the season -- has turned hot.

“You see what ‘Mac’ has been able to do, and he’s gone through it. These last five or six games have been amazing," Bryant said. "I’m going out there to help the team win. When I’m not winning, I’m trying to play the best defense I can and be a good teammate.”

Much of Bryant’s time is spent working on his swing timing.

Hitting coach Hensley Meulens met recently with Bryant, in much the way he did with McMahon to simplify his swing. A current theory is Bryant is firing his swing too quickly. It looks that way from a distance, and Bryant said he feels like, sometimes, he’s jumping the gun by “a millisecond.”

Meulens and the staff are on it, and they're trying to keep the adjustment simple.

“He’s aware of that,” Meulens said. “He needs to get to the point of contact where he hits the ball the hardest. We talked about that again today -- hitting the ball a foot in front of the plate. It’s a fine focus, whether it’s a 95 mph fastball or an 82 mph curveball. He’s working to get back to the point of relaxing and trusting what he sees.”

Meulens noted that Bryant leads the Rockies in pulled balls. Catcher Elias Díaz leads the team in pulled grounders, but he is batting .329. In Bryant’s case, he is even pulling outside pitches, which means grounders to the third-base side.

“It’s probably a little bit too much, too hard,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, whose team scored its only run on Nolan Jones’ first home run with the club, in the ninth inning off Kevin Ginkel.

The positive Meulens offers is Bryant is being aggressive.

“But I’d rather tame them down than rev them up,” Meulens said. “And after this week, we’ve got four months left.”