SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are still lessons for rookie Ryan McMahon, but at least this spring they aren't the hard, painful ones.McMahon, with a clear shot to become the Rockies' first baseman, went 0-for-3 in Thursday's 3-2 walk-off win over the Reds at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. But
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are still lessons for rookie Ryan McMahon, but at least this spring they aren't the hard, painful ones.
McMahon, with a clear shot to become the Rockies' first baseman, went 0-for-3 in Thursday's 3-2 walk-off win over the Reds at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. But he is hitting .353 with three doubles and a homer in 34 at-bats over 13 games. He struck out twice Thursday -- equaling his previous Cactus League total.
His hits have included some flares and balls that found spots through the infield, which is totally fine for a guy who didn't have much on his side in previous Spring Trainings -- 1-for-29 with 13 strikeouts from 2015-17. So McMahon appreciates the positive numbers from a swing that's not where he expects it to be when the season opens.
"It's OK," McMahon said. "Every Spring Training, you've got to come in and kind of teach yourself how to hit. I feel good, feel like my direction is good. I've got to fine-tune a few things and get that rhythm back."
McMahon admitted he was "a little frustrated" with his contact and spent extra time in the batting cage before Wednesday's 5-4 victory over the Rangers. The result was a line-drive single to center against Clayton Blackburn in his first at-bat, and another liner to center his third time up that hung just enough for Drew Robinson to rob him.
The 23-year-old earned his callup last season by hitting a combined .355 with a .403 on-base percentage, a .583 slugging percentage and 20 home runs at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque. He went 3-for-19 (.158) in 17 Major League games, but the Rockies were more focused on the benefit of him being with a team making a postseason push than putting him on the field consistently.
McMahon has returned more confident and performed more competitively this spring.
"Overall, you're seeing a quality at-bat," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "Looks to me he's seeing the ball well. He's swinging at strikes, taking balls. The approach is such where he's using the whole field. He's thinking up the middle, the other way. Something soft he can turn on. A lot of his hits are up the middle, which is good to see.
"It's good to see that he's feeling comfortable. You go back to a couple springs ago when I wasn't here, he had a couple hapless at-bats and maybe no hits. And maybe last year it was sort of the same. We sent him out of camp early, so this has been a gradual progression for him."
The Rockies did not re-sign Mark Reynolds, last year's primary first baseman and a 30-homer hitter. Reynolds remains available (as does their longtime outfield star, Carlos Gonzalez). But with a full 40-man roster and no injuries that will cost significant regular-season time, Colorado's efforts are going to evaluating talent it has developed. It's a big chance for players like McMahon, the organization's No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
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McMahon is also gaining experience against a wide array of arms. Several hits have come off pitchers who haven't reached or have barely touched the Majors, but he also has knocks off vets such as the Cubs' Kyle Hendricks and the Mariners' Mike Leake, as well as emerging pitchers like the D-backs' Braden Shipley and the Reds' Cody Reed. And he is facing many of these pitchers for the first time.
McMahon said he feels best when he puts himself in a position where he can reach pitches on either corner of the plate as if they're down the middle. Searching for that point while also figuring out the pitcher is beneficial.
"It's almost a better challenge and better for your swing in the long run to face a guy you don't know really how his stuff moves," McMahon said. "Then you really have to do your swing to the best of your ability. But it doesn't really matter who's throwing. You're just trying to find that feel."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.