Rockies seeing steady improvement from youngsters

August 21st, 2023

DENVER -- Charlie Blackmon created eruptions off his bat with his third-inning home run and fifth-inning triple in Sunday afternoon’s 10-5 loss to the White Sox at Coors Field. However, his softer sound from a couple weeks ago may resonate with his teammates.

“I always feel it’s a good idea to put into words what you are doing, because it’s easy to just watch the game and think, ‘These guys are just seeing it and hitting it and they’re really good,’” Blackmon said. “It’s easy to overlook what happens from a pregame standpoint, a scouting report standpoint, an approach standpoint. You don’t know what’s going on until you talk about it.”

The Rockies had a 5-3 lead but the bullpen struggled during a seven-run eighth, and a chance at their first sweep since May fizzled. 

But a Rockies team that has largely struggled this season had periodic outbursts against the Sox, and even while beginning the homestand by losing 2-of-3 to the D-backs. While veterans Blackmon and Harold Castro (two singles, one that drove in two runs) led Sunday’s charge against White Sox starter Dylan Cease, it’s instructive that younger players contributed -- until the game became the kind of Coors Field slugfest that this roster isn’t ready to win.

Shortstop Ezequiel Tovar isn’t a surprise. Continuing his emergence as the team’s most effective player, Tovar started a slick double play in the fourth and singled to drive in Blackmon after his triple. But fellow rookies Michael Toglia (two hits), Elehuris Montero (one hit) and Nolan Jones (one walk), were part of rallies against Cease, whose fastball-slider combination figured to trouble them.

Which brings us to how Blackmon spoke softly in hopes of adding weight to the sticks of his teammates.

In two trades, the Rockies sent to the Angels three of their longest-tenured players -- corner infielder Mike Moustakas, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk -- as part of a program to improve pitching depth and quality in the Minors.

The ripple effect meant inexperienced players were now regulars. To smooth the pivot, hitting coach Hensley Meulens revisited one of his favorite propositions. During the team’s Aug. 7-9 series at Milwaukee, Meulens called a hitters' meeting that dealt not with scouting of the opposition but with players’ hearts, minds, hopes and even fears.

“We had an open forum with all the players, talking about hitting,” Meulens said. “I actually wanted Charlie, Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon to talk about what their struggles were in the beginning, how they go about their business. It let the younger kids know they didn’t have to swing that much, they could be more patient.”

Meulens, in his first year with the Rockies, convened such restorations during his three World Series-winning years with the Giants. During rain at 2015 All-Star activities in Cincinnati, Meulens similarly convened the meeting with some of the National League’s best players -- including Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado, who were representing the Rockies.

Meulens knew one meeting wasn’t going to set things right for his struggling club. Yes, the homestand saw better offense. But last weekend the Rockies endured 49 strikeouts against two walks while being swept at Dodger Stadium. But he felt the education would pay off later.

The information not only was good for the hitting staff, including assistants Andy González and P.J. Pilittere, but for player to player understanding.

“I asked ‘Chuck’ in front of all of them, ‘You’ve had almost 6,000 at-bats in the big leagues -- how many of them did you really feel good?’” Meulens said. “He said, ‘I didn’t want to feel good.’”

Blackmon elaborated Sunday.

“I don’t want to feel good; I want to feel normal,” said Blackmon, 9-for-20 (.450) with two homers in six games since returning from a 53-game absence with a fractured right hand. “You want to feel good, but not too good -- because then you start changing things. I want to be somewhere in the middle.”

Meulens then listened. 

Players rallied behind Montero, who admitted low confidence but during the homestand went 9-for-21 (.429) with hits in five of the six games, including a homer. Toglia acknowledged trying to be too perfect. Jones was able to relate to Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame speech, when he said that it was freeing to see that everyone strikes out and makes mistakes.

It’s baseball so struggles will continue. The next road trip, starting Tuesday, calls for three games apiece against the Rays and Orioles -- American League East stalwarts. But the room has more information.

“It was good for guys to hear about the mistakes,” Blackmon said. “Everybody’s going to make mistakes. We established that. But we could focus on how you respond to those mistakes. Can you learn something? Can you make the adjustment? That’s really the key to hitting.”