Story fighting back at plate with homer surge

September 15th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Rockies shortstop is striking back.

For much of this season, opposing pitchers had more success on inside pitches. When they missed over the plate, Story didn’t make them pay. When they missed inside, well, there is a reason he has been hit a career-high 11 times.

Now Story is doing the bruising. His second-inning shot to straightaway center field off Braves righty Touki Toussaint, in Colorado's 5-4 win over Atlanta on Tuesday night at Truist Park, was his third home run in four games, and his sixth in his past 14.

Brendan Rodgers launched his 12th homer of the season, a two-run shot for a fifth-inning lead, Jon Gray fanned seven in five solid innings and Garrett Hampson added an RBI single and a triple. The Rockies improved to 4-1 on a road trip against contending clubs -- the NL East-leading Braves and their closest division competitor, the Phillies.

Story’s recent power has increased his season total to 22. He's unlikely to finish near his 37 homers of 2018 or the 35 he blasted in '19, but he's trending positively. If the pitching plan involves buzzing him more than ever -- he had never been hit more than seven times in a season -- he may as well fight back with the best way he knows how, with a home run.

“They’re coming in, and they’re obviously not afraid to hit me,” said Story, with a wry smile. “And I just haven’t done a good job of taking care of it. It’s about ending the at-bat when I do get that mistake. This year, I just haven’t been taking care of the ones I should.”

The homer was a mistake that Story has returned to clubbing – a 1-0, 93.6 mph sinker that Toussaint left over the heart of the plate.

Story’s next at-bat was more indicative of what has been happening this year. With the count 2-1, Story had to duck Toussaint’s high fastball. The next pitch was a nasty, 88 mph split-finger that Story rolled to the shortstop.

Here is a visual representation of how Story was pitched when he was ahead in the count during the 60-game '20 season:

And here is how he has been pitched while ahead in the count this year:

Notice there is way more color closer to the batter silhouette. It goes to show that even when the opposing pitcher is in trouble, he will likely send a fastball inside. As a result, some of those pitches force Story into self-preservation mode.

But Story has missed enough of them that teams feel that the plan works.

On pitches on the inside part of the plate or off the plate and inside, Story went into Tuesday batting .255 and .509 this year after hitting .289 with a .589 slugging percentage last year, per Statcast.

The whole issue turned ridiculous in August, when he was hit six times -- one fewer than the full seasons of 2018 and 2019.

The results are better lately, partly because of Story making adjustments, but also because he isn’t thinking as much.

“I'm really just focused on competing,” Story said. “Obviously, I’m trying to fine-tune some things and I’ll get back to my good habits in the offseason. But I’m trying not to be so overwhelmed with them that it takes me away from competing.”

Manager Bud Black doesn't see Story as overcorrecting.

“I do know he’s trying to be more selective, but at the same time we need him to be aggressive, because he can hit some balls that are just out of the strike zone -- and hit them hard,” Black said. "So it's a fine line there, but I don't think there's anything drastic that he's doing with the swing or his approach or his mechanics.”

Story is a free agent at season’s end, one who was widely assumed would be moved at the Trade Deadline. When he wasn’t, there was disappointment and confusion. All those factors lead one to wonder how much the situation has affected his play. Then there was an injury to his right elbow in late April-early May, which cost him time and may have come right when he was finding his form.

Whether the weight of all that slowed his offensive adjustments and affected his overall play is a fair question and a difficult answer.

“You try to prepare for it as best as you can,” Story said. “We did it the best we could.”

With Story regaining the form that made him a coveted player, and with the Rockies playing better baseball, another sticky question is whether the Rockies can reach a multi-year deal with him and benefit from his expected 2022 rebound. Privately, club officials say they should not be counted out.

Story said there have been no talks with the club, which will make a qualifying offer so that it can receive a compensatory pick in the 2022 Draft should he go elsewhere. But he is open.

“We’re not counting anybody out,” Story said. “I’ve spent a lot of time here. They’ve been family to me the last six years. Nothing has come about there, but we’ll cross that bridge in the offseason.”

Bidding will be difficult for the Rockies. But, especially if the Rockies make assurances they can bring in help for the lineup, they may have a shot at having Story continue his counterpunch in purple.