DENVER -- To know Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia on any level is to realize he lives to hit. To know him even a little better is to understand not tearing it up doesn’t tear him up; it only makes him work and study harder.
In the Rockies' 10-6 victory over the Rangers at Coors Field on Sunday afternoon, which they hope serves as a springboard after a humbling 2-4 homestand, Tapia had three hits, including a third-inning triple.
In his last five games, after a stint on the bench and going under the hood with hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Jeff Salazar, Tapia has gone 8-for-17 with two triples, raising his batting average 53 points to .303. He went from seven strikeouts in his first 15 at-bats of the year to just two during the homestand.
“I've been working on looking for my pitch and not swinging on a pitch that may not be the one I need to be swinging at,” Tapia said earlier in the week. “I’m just being really diligent about working on my swing and knowing what to swing at.”
Several other Rockies also found their form on Sunday:
• Charlie Blackmon, who turned cold for nearly three games after his 15-game hit streak ended, went 2-for-3 with both an RBI single and double.
• Ryan McMahon, seemingly climbing out of a strikeout-filled hole, powered a left-on-left, three-run homer off Rangers starter Kolby Allard to dead-center -- the same location of his homer off Allard during the teams' final exhibition game in Texas. The homer followed Tapia’s 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in a single.
“It definitely fired me up -- it looked like old-school Tap,” McMahon said. “He used to do that all the time in the Minor Leagues."
• Righty Jon Gray struck out seven across as many frames with just three hits allowed to shake off a 3 1/3-inning, 11-hit mess against the D-backs that was as unlucky as it was bad. Gray, who was not hurt by Rougned Odor’s two-run homer in the second and Joey Gallo’s solo shot in the fourth, comparatively had nine strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings over his first four starts entering Sunday.
The breakout of Tapia, who came into the season expecting to be the offensive producer he was during his prospect days, is an anatomy of how a player and his coaches can quickly work together to find form in a season when slumps simply can’t last long. The Rockies have ridden Nolan Arenado through a significant struggle, hope Tapia and McMahon are escaping their funks, and have a ways to go with David Dahl, who was on the bench for the second straight game after amassing zero hits in his last 15 at-bats, with eight strikeouts.
Tapia's poor counts and wild swings that were coming in earlier this year have been replaced by control and a solid, line-drive swing.
“I think he’s a natural hitter,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “With Tap, every player wants to play. Every player wants to get regular at-bats. But there's a little bit of a performance-based operation that we have going on right now. We need guys who contribute.
“And we pop Tap back in there, thinking that he might be able to give us a lift because other guys were not swinging great. And he responded with a number of hits to have his average climbed over .300. Hopefully that continues.”
Tapia’s confidence in his bat-to-ball skills makes him a threat to go on torrid streaks, but it can also lead to chasing pitches early and plunging into poor counts. Before this five-game run, Tapia ended just 22.2 percent percent of his plate appearances in hitter’s counts. Since then, he has improved that lot to 35 percent.
The left-handed-hitting ability to react to pitches showed on Sunday, in that all his hits went to either center or left-center.
“Playing against him before, seeing him hit the ball the other way is a good sign of him being locked in,” said Kemp, who had two hits batting a spot ahead of Tapia on Sunday. “Yesterday, he didn’t get any hits, but he hit the ball hard three times right at somebody. Those are always good games, and today it turned into three more hits."
Tapia, who has returned to a leg kick/hover that was negotiated out of his swing during Spring Training, feels he has an edge if he can get pitchers into the strike zone. Part of his time out of the lineup was spent studying pitch strategies.
“Each guy is different,” he said. “Some guys will throw a fastball that is not a strike. I have to make sure I don’t swing at pitches just to swing at them.”