SCOTTSDALE -- Fans watch, and listen to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado’s at-bats -- like his first-inning fireworks home run to left field off Cubs lefty Jose Quintana on Tuesday. But this Spring Training is as much about the quieter times.
Arenado is 3-for-12 this spring, with all the hits loud -- a double and two homers. But the bigger story is the patience he is showing. It’s for himself, and for the good of the Rockies, who are on a quest to improve their pitch selection. So he and the club are seeking inspiration in his four walks this spring.
“Obviously, you want your hits,” Arenado said. “You want to hit the ball hard. But at the end of the day you’re not going to get all those pitches all the time.”
There is a degree of sacrifice, since Arenado is dangerous outside the strike zone. His homer off Quintana on Tuesday, for example, was up and off the inner edge of the plate.
“It’s good to get one like that, because I feel like pulling is what I need to do,” Arenado said. “It was good to get the head out against a guy who’s a really good pitcher and we’ve had good battles, but it’s still Spring Training. He’s working on stuff, too.”
Last season Arenado was quite good outside the zone, in batting average (.274, third in MLB), slugging (.447, second), hits (53, second) and home runs (18, third).
But Arenado’s overall season -- .315/.379/.583 with 41 homers and 118 RBIs -- included extreme damage inside the strike zone. And if he can sacrifice some of the chases and accept some walks, with the meta goal of forcing pitchers into zones where Arenado is best, imagine what it could do for teammates who have been chasing without Arenado’s success rates.
According to Statcast, the Rockies’ 30.1% chase rate was higher than that of all but eight clubs. And while injuries and slumps throughout the starting rotation and bullpen are easy culprits for the 71-91 record, near-complete offensive outages during a 3-12 start and a 6-19 July were every bit to blame.
Going into Tuesday, Arenado’s four walks and Ryan McMahon’s three led the regulars -- with corner infield prospect Colton Welker blowing everyone away with six. But walks aren’t the end goal. Daniel Murphy and Trevor Story, each hitting .333, were getting and hitting the right pitches.
So Arenado’s spring, which didn’t include a strikeout until he fanned against the Cubs’ Colin Rea in the fourth inning, is as much a hitting approach example as some of the guys with higher averages.
“It’s a high priority for us offensively -- our chase rate and making incremental improvements on that, and that goes to each guy,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “It’s incremental improvement for each player, for the group effort. And Nolan’s setting a great example so far this spring.”
Arenado has gone to some lengths recently for chances to hit. He stood through an 11-run inning for the Dodgers and played seven innings of a blowout, just to come to the plate again. And he walked in that plate appearance. On Tuesday, he tried. But after standing around defensively as Rockies pitching gave up eight runs, 12 hits and seven walks through six innings, he decided against a third appearance.
“I just got a little tired and tight and was like, 'I don’t really care for this at-bat right now,'” he said.
He just has to make all his chances worthwhile.
“I want to get on base, for sure, but I’m more worried about my hit total -- getting hits and driving in runs,” Arenado said, smiling way more when talking about hitting than walking. “But at the same time, if I’m not going to get a pitch to hit, I have to just take the walk and move on.”