As Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado was learning the Majors as a rookie last season, manager Walt Weiss said he could see Arenado eventually hitting in the middle of the order. Well, with Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer all out with injuries, eventually is here.
In 10 games in the prime No. 3 spot, Arenado, 23, is batting .326 (14-for-47 with four doubles, two home runs and six RBIs. Monday night’s game against the Padres was his 11th in the cleanup spot. He entered hitting .257 (9-for-42) with two homers, four doubles and eight RBIs.
Arenado said hitting in such prime spots is comforting, rather than burdensome.
“Growing up, I was always a 3 or 4 hitter, so I go back to those days, slow the game down and try to hit the ball hard,” he said.
Arenado flied out in his first two at-bats Monday. Both were with two on base – with one out in the first and two out in the third.
I’m hitting with more guys on second base with fewer than two outs, or guys on third base,” Arenado said. “At the beginning of the year, I felt like I was always hitting with two outs. I’m just trying to do a job.”
– Thomas Harding
Sometimes when a player commits a major mistake, he draws on the experience of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Once after he made a game-losing error, he noted that he was just happy he would have the opportunity to make more such mistakes. It wasn’t that he enjoyed making the mistake. He was just happy the Orioles would keep giving him a chance to play.
Now Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon can identify.
Blackmon entered Monday night’s game against the Padres hitless in his last 10 at-bats and 3-for-33 in August. But he led off the game with an infield single – Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista dove behind second to stop the ball, but didn’t have a play at first – that for all anyone knows could start a reversal of the trend.
In previous years, as Blackmon battled foot injuries and was trying to establish himself in the Majors, he might not have received as many opportunities. A slump could have meant time on the bench or even an option to Triple-A Colorado Springs. But he made his first Opening Day roster this year,
was one of the Majors’ hottest hitters in April, and he was voted by players to the National League All-Star team.
“I did pretty well earlier in the season, and that’s afforded me some opportunities to be able to make the adjustments,” Blackmon said. “Last year, instead of getting to play the next day, you’d have to come off the bench that day and maybe do it again the next day.”
After Blackmon’s hot start, he began seeing more off-speed pitches early in the count. Blackmon was able to fight through that. Now pitchers are varying from pitch to pitch at a level he did not see earlier.
“They’ve mixing it up way more – velocities, locations and all that stuff,” Blackmon said. “It’s not just, ‘I’m going to throw fastballs away until you do something with it.’ It’s in, out, hard, soft, right from the get-go.”
Does being a leadoff man make it easier or harder?
“It depends on how things are going,” Blackmon said. “You always want one more at-bat [than players lower in the order in a particular game]. But sometimes I feel like I want to be able to see how the pitcher is throwing. The first time you see a changeup might be 0-2.”
– Thomas Harding