Notes: Tapia 'locked in' at leadoff

September 7th, 2020

The Rockies’ arrived in the Majors with leadoff skills, but it took until this year for him to fit at the top of the order.

Tapia, 26, who debuted in 2016 and became a regular the second half of last season, started this year slowly and was benched briefly in early August. But from Aug. 11 through his 2-for-4 performance in Saturday night’s 5-2 road victory over the Dodgers, Tapia batted .346 with a .438 on-base percentage.

With David Dahl injured and Garrett Hampson having cooled off, manager Bud Black made him the leadoff man on Aug. 20. Between then and Saturday, Tapia’s 4.42 pitches seen per plate appearance was the sixth-highest average of any National League Player, per STATS, Inc.

The turn is dramatic. Last year, while replacing injured then-leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, Tapia batted just .255 with a .286 OBP in 86 leadoff plate appearances, and took off only after being lowered in the order.

What has changed?

“It’s just the consistency of getting more at-bats, feeling comfortable, being locked in -- and a lot of practice,” Tapia said.

Black said Tapia has made a mental adjustment. Last season, Tapia had nine homers (one inside the park) and 28 extra-base hits, mostly at home. Trying to build on that led to trouble.

“You really can’t have two different approaches home and road,” Black said. “So I think this is his commitment to being the type of hitter we all thing he can be and he thinks he is – using the whole field, putting the ball in play, taking his walks, not chasing.”

Tapia has also made visible changes since his slow start.

During Spring Training, Tapia had quick results from a toe tap suggested by hitting coach Dave Magadan and assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar. But after the benching, Tapia negotiated his old leg kick/hover back into his setup. He also turned his upper body toward the pitcher in his stance.

“I was doing my toe tap but staying back, or doing my toe tap then being way out front with my weight, so the leg kick helped me get that balance,” Tapia said. “And facing the pitcher allowed me to relax a lot more.”

Family staying close
Nolan Arenado drove in the go-ahead run and Josh Fuentes added the two-run double in the ninth inning Saturday night. But the cousins, both from Southern California, couldn’t hear the cheers of their family.

“It'd be great to have our family here to watch that but obviously the times are crazy,” Arenado said wistfully. “But I know they're watching. They sent us some videos of them celebrating, so it was pretty cool.”

Fuentes added, “I checked my pone and had all my family there watching the game. There were so many videos of them going crazy. The fact both of us came up with some big hits was awesome.”

Return of the Mac?
Ryan McMahon was out of the starting lineup Sunday for a fourth straight game. Sunday was explainable, with the Rockies facing Dodgers lefty Julio Urías. But McMahon spent the previous three games on the bench against righty starters, as he works through issues that have led to 47 strikeouts in 114 at-bats, and a .211 batting average.

McMahon hit 24 home runs last season, so the Rockies were looking for the next step -- which Black hopes begins when he returns to the lineup, after spending time with Magadan and Salazar.

“He's working on with ‘Mags’ and ‘Sally’ on a little bit of a shorter path to the ball, which he’s bought into,” Black said. “He’s got to come on here to help us. It’s there in front of him. We just wanted to give him a few days to work on some things and exhale.”

Matchups for McMahon could be more favorable in San Diego, when the Rockies face three righty starters.

Dahl, who hasn’t played since Aug. 17 because of lower back soreness, joined the team in Los Angeles on Saturday and is being evaluated daily, as the Rockies hope to put him back on the active roster soon.”

Mean in the Ravine
According to STATS Inc., since 2017, righty Germán Márquez has made the most starts of seven innings or more while allowing two runs or fewer at Dodger Stadium as a visiting pitcher, with four. Zach Davies has three, and Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner have two apiece.