The Rockies are so rapidly turning to inexperienced players that Raimel Tapia, in only his second year as a regular, is answering the questions he was asking not long ago.
“It just gives me a little bit more confidence, knowing that I can help out a younger hitter and vice versa,” Tapia said through an interpreter. “They can help me out, too.”
Tapia showed what he knows during a strong series at Chase Field. In Sunday’s finale, he had three hits, an RBI and two stolen bases. Alas, as has been the case for the Rockies on the road, it wasn’t enough. Arizona rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to give Colorado an 8-4 loss.
The Rockies dropped three of four in the series, five of seven on this road trip and are now 2-11 away from Coors Field (where they return Monday to begin a three-game series with the Giants).
But Tapia heated up against the D-backs, going 7-for-11 over the final two games of the series. His RBI single in the eighth came after the Rockies had started Sunday 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position (en route to a 2-for-15 performance in those situations).
“Today was a good Tapia day,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He had three hits, two stolen bases. We talked prior to the game about the potential of a long-ranging diving catch, and we saw that. That was a great catch he made off the bat of [Eduardo] Escobar [in the third] down the left-field line.”
Tapia became the Rockies’ leadoff hitter last season, overcame an early slump and then furnished a promising .321/.369/.402 slash line over 51 games. He showed impatience early this year, regained his form after a brief time lower in the order and is now is setting the table at a .320/.368/.433 clip in 27 games.
A lineup that as recently as four seasons ago was populated by veterans such as Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos González, Chris Iannetta and (during the 2018 postseason run) Matt Holliday now looks at the 27-year-old Tapia as a veteran.
The dream scenario for 2021 was that many of the lesser-experienced players would take off and the veterans would be their normal selves.
However, Charlie Blackmon struggled until this recent road trip and Trevor Story (who has homered in each of the past two games) had his biggest strike of luck Sunday when X-rays came back negative after he was hit by a pitch on his right index finger. C.J. Cron has also taken off after a slow start.
Among the not-as-established players, Tapia and Ryan McMahon (eight homers and a .547 slugging percentage) have put up strong numbers, but many others are hoping the growing pains of 2021 will lead to bigger numbers and roles with the team moving forward.
Tapia is doing his part by setting a standard of self-confidence and energy atop the order. He succeeds aggressively. Even when he struggles, it’s because he’s trying to do something positive -- not living in fear of the inexorable failure that is baseball.
“I’m the type of hitter that plays relaxed all the time,” Tapia said. “When I was younger, all I needed was more playing time, more at-bats to feel more comfortable.
“That’s all we need, more time and more experience.”