DENVER -- Rockies outfielder David Dahl has stayed busy the past several months lifting, pulling and pushing weights. But the real test, which begins Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz., is his body's ability to handle swinging a 33 1/2-inch, 31 1/2-ounce piece of lumber.
Dahl suffered a stress reaction -- or the beginning of a stress fracture -- at the tip of the sixth rib (where it curls around the back) early last Spring Training. Patterns of rest, workouts and baseball activity came and went. But each time, the nagging pain returned when he ramped up his swing -- the motion that made him a first-round MLB Draft pick in 2012 and a promising rookie for the Rockies in 2016. After dealing with back spasms while trying to return in July 2017, Dahl was shut down for the year.
Without the lure of big league games, Dahl rested until the pain disappeared. An MRI in November confirmed that the injury was healed, and he has been on a strengthening program since. Finally, Dahl has been cleared to show up at the Rockies' training center at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and swing a bat.
"I feel great. I don't have any issues," Dahl said Wednesday upon arriving in Scottsdale, after spending the holidays in Houston. "I'm completely healed. I feel strong. I'm ready for Spring Training to get here so I can prove to everyone that I'm ready."
He'll likely be limited to "dry" swings initially, followed by hitting off a tee then soft-toss. If all goes well, Dahl will be swinging with full force when Spring Training opens.
Dahl's increased activity comes at a time the Rockies have a big decision to make. The lineup calls for one more impact hitter at first base or in the outfield, and general manager Jeff Bridich is evaluating the options at both spots.
With Dahl and 2017 rookie Raimel Tapia, who hit .278 in 70 games last year and displayed the potential for game-breaking speed, in the outfield, and 2017 Minor League standout Ryan McMahon at first base, the answers may be in-house. But coming off a postseason appearance in 2017, Bridich could opt for a more proven player.
"I see what the team is doing, but I try not to look too much into it, as far as who we're signing outfield-wise or anything like that," Dahl said. "I just need to prove to everybody that I'm healthy and the same player that I was."
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Dahl, who can play all three outfield positions, likely is pleased 2017 is behind him.
In 2016, Dahl debuted in July, batting .315 -- hits in 50 of his 63 games -- with seven home runs, 12 doubles, four triples and 24 RBIs. Last year he was expected to challenge Gerardo Parra, whose injuries and struggles in 2016 opened the door for Dahl. But the injury led to his rib becoming irritated by his scapula (shoulder blade) during his swing.
"The more activity I would start doing, I would start feeling it a little," Dahl said. "If I would take 2-3 weeks off, I'd feel good or I wouldn't feel it anymore. I was like, 'OK, I feel good. Let's ramp it up. I'm ready.' Then we'd start doing more stuff again and I'd feel it a bit. Once I started swinging, it would flare up again."
The difference this time around is Dahl ramped up rotational exercises and leg strengthening after receiving the November MRI and hasn't experienced a setback. In addition to the swing progression, Dahl said the plan is to increase the workload.
Dahl also is paying renewed attention to maintaining muscle. He is at 190 pounds and plans to report to camp at 195, though maintaining weight has been an issue for him. He dropped to 178 during his rookie season, and when he was struggling last year, his weight dropped into the low 180s. To maintain weight, he said he is eating "super clean," meaning he has eliminated breads and absorbing carbs through brown rice, sweet potatoes and oatmeal, and is logging chicken, fish and meat consumption to stay on schedule.
"I was getting more violent upper body-wise instead of getting into my legs, and that was putting a lot of stress on me," Dahl said. "Getting back to being strong in my legs and having a good base will help me a lot."
Dahl hopes the quiet, lonely work leads to much excitement when he's back on the field.
"I do see all the stuff on Twitter," Dahl said. "It motivates me to keep working hard to come out and show everybody that I'm the same player I was before this rough injury I had last year."