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McMahon, Hampson to be factors in 2019

Valaika flexes his muscles; Garcia starts for sick Freeland
@harding_at_mlb
March 8, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There’s only one second baseman on the field at a time, but the fifth inning of the Rockies’ 11-10 victory over the Rangers on Friday highlighted the opportunities available to the two guys who play second. Ryan McMahon led off the bottom of the fifth with an

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There’s only one second baseman on the field at a time, but the fifth inning of the Rockies’ 11-10 victory over the Rangers on Friday highlighted the opportunities available to the two guys who play second.

Ryan McMahon led off the bottom of the fifth with an opposite-field homer to left field off one-time Rockies right-hander Chris Martin. Later in the inning, Garrett Hampson, who homered Thursday against the Cubs, entered and promptly stole second.

Hampson stayed in the game in center field, and in other games has played shortstop and third base. McMahon played second on Friday, but has seen action at first and third.

The left-handed hitting McMahon became a prospect with his power bat, and he has athletic ability defensively. The right-handed hitting Hampson’s calling card is speed and defensive versatility, but he has three spring homers.

So manager Bud Black has plenty of ways and reasons to play both, no matter who starts on a particular day. What began the spring as a competition for one position is looking more like an opportunity for both to contribute as starters, or off the bench.

“We’re both playing really well right now,” McMahon said. “Garrett has some amazing attributes when it comes to being a baseball player. His speed is unmatched in this game right now. We’re going to help the team in different ways.”

Hampson said he hasn’t looked at it as him against anyone.

“I don’t think it’s good to get caught up in who’s doing this, who’s doing that,” Hampson said.

Friday highlighted a positive development for McMahon -- the ability to drive a ball the opposite way.

Throughout the Minors, McMahon showed most of his power to center and right-center, and there has been pressure to pull balls. But, after most of his opposite-field hits last year were flares, McMahon is taking what he calls “less-timid swings.” Friday he showed he can put a charge into a middle-out pitch.

“Nobody can consistently hit it out [to left] but I can consistently hit it hard -- that’s my focus,” McMahon said.

More thunder from Valaika

Right-handed hitting Pat Valaika, competing for a bench role, knocked his team-high fourth spring homer for two runs off the Rangers’ Taylor Hearn.

Black tied together the performances of McMahon, Hampson and Valaika (who plays four infield position and can play outfield in a pinch). Without DJ LeMahieu, who signed with the Yankees after being the Rockies’ steady rock at second base, he can use the talents of the current players in several ways.

“We’ve talked about the versatility that ‘Mac’ has, and Pat has and Garrett has,” Black said. “And the way we’re going to use our 25-man roster is probably going to be a little bit different than the last couple of years, because of the players that we have. And it’s sort of exciting for everybody.”

A winner

No. 2 prospect Colton Welker continued the celebration of his first Major League camp by delivering a bases-loaded single for the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Earlier in the ninth, non-roster invitee Peter Mooney, expected to provide middle infield depth, tied the game with an RBI double.

The Rockies trailed 7-0, until a six-run fifth inning that featured McMahon’s homer and Raimel Tapia’s two-run triple.

Rico to the rescue

Forced into starting against the Rangers because lefty Kyle Freeland came down with a stomach bug, righty Rico Garcia accounted well for himself until the tail end of his 2 2/3 innings.

Garcia, a 30th-round pick out of Hawaii Pacific in 2016 who had a solid year at Class A Lancaster and Double-A Hartford (combined 13-9, 2.96 ERA in 27 games, 26 starts), walked two hitters to load the bases before serving up Elvis Andrus’ grand slam. “Walks, one way or another, will come back and find you,” said Garcia, still calming down from his excitement.

Despite his late draft status, Garcia is the Rockies’ No. 22 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“It shows that they have faith no matter where they draft you; once you’re in the organization they’ll always put their best interest in you,” Garcia said.

Stop bugging me

Freeland merely became the latest Rockies player to be affected by a stomach bug that’s making its rounds. Lefty reliever Jake McGee also is dealing with it. At various times this spring, the illness felled Garcia, lefty pitcher Sam Howard, first baseman Daniel Murphy and catcher Tony Wolters -- even general manager Jeff Bridich.

Up next

Righty German Marquez will start for the Rockies at Goodyear, Arizona against the Indians and righty Shane Bieber at 1:05 p.m. MST. A split squad will meet the D-backs in the first of two games in Monterrey, Mexico, with Rockies righty Jeff Hoffman starting against righty Taylor Clarke at 5:10 p.m. MST. Among those headed to Mexico are lefty Tyler Anderson (Sunday’s starter), right fielder Charlie Blackmon, Wolters, Hampson and Valaika.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.