DENVER — Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers hits pitches in the strike zone. Sometimes he crushes them.
But in the first inning of Wednesday’s 9-6 loss to the Phillies at Coors Field, he simply looked at pitcher Zach Eflin’s changeup — which was at the bottom of the zone and about three inches inside the edge of the plate. Then he cast his eyes to home plate umpire Dan Merzel in protest before trudging away with yet another strikeout to end the frame.
Maybe he couldn’t have hit what he saw, on video, as a “perfect pitch.” But the fact he didn’t see it at the time is a signal of how out of sorts Rodgers is. His 0-for-4 performance in the series finale left his average at .095 with 16 strikeouts in 42 at-bats.
“I apologized to the umpire afterward,” Rodgers said. “He was right.”
And Rodgers, whose slow start is made more palatable by the Rockies’ 8-4 record, believes he will be right. To back him, he has last year’s grind after missing the first month-plus with a right hamstring injury and the self-confidence he gained by overcoming those early struggles. He started .167 through his first 11 games, and by season’s end had lifted to .284 with 15 home runs.
“I obviously didn’t intend on having this slow of a start, but I feel confident, still,” Rodgers said. “I’m taking good swings. I’m missing my pitch — that I don’t normally miss.”
“I keep my head high and keep going. … And I know that it’s 11 games.”
Aside from the two strikeouts Wednesday, Rodgers’ skid has reached the no-luck stage. An infield topper in the fourth inning, the type that is a hit during good times, became an out when Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm used his bare hand to start a 5-3 putout. In the sixth, Rodgers’ line drive went straight to Phils first baseman Rhys Hoskins.
Pitches Rodgers began crushing last year — once his first Major League home run on June 5 allowed him to relax — are the ones he is swinging through this year. He theorized maybe he is getting “too big” with his movements. Or he is drifting slightly toward home plate, a universal cause of poor pitch tracking and skewed timing.
“When I’m going well, it’s almost like I feel I can hit everything,” Rodgers said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re swinging at everything. But I know I can hit any pitch in the zone. I’ve just got to shorten up that zone a little bit.
“Sometimes you get in the box and you feel like you have two strikes on you. That’s how it’s been. But I’ve got to stay aggressive. I can’t get out of who I am.”
The knowledge that it’s early allows Rodgers to believe a turnaround is coming. But it also is a warning. He can’t overdo the batting cage work.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to overswing. You don’t want your obliques and your body locking up if you’re taking 200 swings a day. But you want to work on what your flaws are.
“I’ve been missing breaking balls, so I’m crushing pitching machine breaking balls. Same thing with heaters — “spinny” heaters, in the middle of the zone or wherever they may be. I’ve just got to continue to try to master that.”
Rodgers made a couple of solid defensive plays, one on a smooth double-play turn in the third, and is trying not to take his struggles to the field. Manager Bud Black pointed out that several Rockies aren’t necessarily clicking, adding “there’s more power in the lineup than we have shown.” The Rockies’ numbers with runners in scoring position were shoddy until the last two games, when they’ve gone 8-for-20, yet the club’s record is solid going into its first extended road trip. Colorado plays three in Detroit starting Friday, followed by four at Philadelphia starting Monday.
“It would be nice to have a good start,” Rodgers said. “It starts two days from now.”