July 6, 2022

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Clean-shaven Hilliard taking fresh approach

3 min read
Rockies left fielder removes beard, belts home run in 2-hit game vs. Royals
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DENVER — Why look at the stat sheet? Nothing the Rockies’ Sam Hilliard could do about the .145 batting average he woke up with on Friday morning.

But his reflection? He could do something about what he saw.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘This beard has no hits,’” Hilliard said after the team’s 14-10 loss to the Royals at Coors Field.

Clean-shaven for the first time at the Major League level — although he has experimented with looks, hirsute and otherwise, in the Minors and college — Hilliard washed away some of the struggles. He knocked his first home run of the season, an eighth-inning solo shot off Royals reliever Gabe Speier, and went 2-for-4 with a walk.

All didn’t go well for the Rockies. Fielding errors from guys who shouldn’t be making them — third baseman Ryan McMahon (whose seven already tied last year’s full-season total) and second baseman Brendan Rodgers (who later homered) led to six unearned runs in the Interleague series opener.

The defeat in the opener of a nine-game homestand was the Rockies’ sixth in the last seven games. But unlike the homerless road trip, they found some offensive success.

And no one needed it more than Hilliard, who needed an electric shaver and a hand-held razor to whisk away the whiskers that accompanied him through some rough times to start 2022. Even teammates did a double-take, wondering if a new guy had shown up. If that new guy has Hilliard’s name, but has better luck with balls in play, draws enough walks and continues the never-ending work to trim strikeouts, that is fine with him.

“I just wanted to start clean and have a different feel going into the game today,” Hilliard said. So I just shaved my face and wore the pants [cuffs] down, and it felt a little different out there.”

The struggle for hits has been especially frustrating for Hilliard, who has 18 strikeouts, but had trimmed his strikeout rate — 27.7 percent going into Friday, after seeing that figure near 37 percent each of the previous two seasons. He had an 0-for-18 stretch and an 0-for-13 road trip, but when a team wins once on a trip to Arizona and San Francisco, his struggles are not an outlier.

Throughout the year, manager Bud Black has noted his improved control of the strike zone. But sub-.200 is sub-.200.

Nothing reinforces good acts in the batter’s box like rewards, such as the home run.

“That was a good swing for Sam,” Black said. “Anytime you get your first home run, I think players exhale. He had a couple good at-bats, too. There was a good walk in the middle part of the game, good swing at the end of the game [that Royals center fielder Michael A.] Taylor ran down.”

Rodgers, whose two-run homer came in the seventh, was happy Hillaird found success after a shave, but said he will be keeping his beard. It’s about production more than facial hair, and Rodgers believes Hilliard will produce.

“He looks good,” Rodgers said. “I’ve seen him with pretty much any type of facial hair you’ve ever imagined since 2015. So I like it. He does look younger. But I’m glad. I’m happy for him. He swung the bat well, hit the ball hard. He’s right where he needs to be.”

Hilliard referred to the homer as a relief.

“I feel like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders — especially that first homer of the year with just making nice, hard contact,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard finished last season with five homers in his final 19 games, and the Rockies decided to increase his playing time this year. Kris Bryant’s absence since April 25 with a back injury made Hilliard’s role more important.

The look is not popular with everyone. But if the stat sheet starts to look better, Hilliard will be happier and that’s good for everyone.

“My wife told me she definitely likes the beard, but she’s gonna have to suck it up for at least a little while,” Hilliard said.

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