DENVER -- Tony Wolters employs a healthy dose of deception when calling pitches as the Rockies' starting backstop, which he said is related to knowing the challenges of batting eighth.
Wolters, who made his 11th start in Monday's 8-4 win over the Nationals, elevated his batting average to .351 after going 3-for-4 with his first RBI of 2017, a significant uptick from his .259 clip of a year ago, even with a small sample size thus far.
In addition to accumulating plate appearances to establish pitch recognition and muscle memory, Wolters spent much of 2016 trying to keep his barrel in the zone longer. He swung and missed on 11.2 percent of pitches he saw within the strike zone, according to Statcast™, which led to 21 of his 53 strikeouts. This year he has whiffed on just three strikes among the 80 total pitches thrown in his strike zone, or 3.8 percent.
"I think me being earlier is showing me that I've always been late, and now it's just getting used to it and consistently seeing the ball and just making that the goal, to see the ball as well as you can. I want to be a hard out. I don't want to swing at bad pitches, and I just want to do my job every time. If there's a man on second, no outs, I'm hitting him over or bunting him over, or if there's a guy on third, I want to score him every time. In late situations, I want to get those hits for our team."
With an earlier swing, Wolters has inadvertently expanded the field. He said doing so has led to more success catching up on fastballs that have led to opposite-field hits, such as his two singles to left field on Monday, which were four-seam pitches at 96 mph and 95 mph, or wait on off-speed offerings and pull.
Batting eighth in the National League creates an added weight, Wolters said.
"You just don't know how you're pitched sometimes," he said. "That first pitch always tells you what's going on, but sometimes not even that. You might get a first pitch right down the middle and you're just diced. That's the thing. That's why I'm keeping it simple: See the ball and hit good pitches."
More important than Wolters' offensive contributions of late, according to manager Bud Black, is his impact on the young pitching staff, which now includes three rookies after German Marquez was called up to take Jon Gray's rotation spot.
"When a guy hits at the bottom of the order, at times he can fly under the radar, but Tony gets his hits, which is great. But more important, Tony is doing a good job with the pitchers, which is his most important job, to get our pitchers through a game, and he's doing great. If he gets some knocks, that's great."