July 6, 2022

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Rox on need to clean up defense: 'We’ll get it done'

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SAN FRANCISCO — A multiposition man often can’t rest when the schedule calls for it. So, the Rockies’ Garrett Hampson was back on the field Wednesday, brushing up on second base after pulling a late shift at the position Tuesday.

“I can play any position on the field and be a good defender, but it just takes reps,” Hampson said.

If the schedule wasn’t so demanding, a whole bunch of Rockies could have been out there for a refresher. Defense, long a stronghold of the team, has been notably shaky in 2022.

The Rockies (16-15) open a three-game series with the Royals and start a nine-game homestand on Friday, after Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to the Giants completed a 1-5 road trip within the National League West.

The Rockies on the road, well, you know the drill about the offense. But the first two games in San Francisco showcased the team’s defensive struggles. A pair of midgame miscues made their late runs irrelevant on Monday, and on Tuesday, two missed early double-play chances stopped the defense from clearing up Antonio Senzatela’s fuzzy outing. On the last road trip, the Rockies were swept in four games in Philadelphia — when they committed seven errors.

“It all works together with pitching,” manager Bud Black said after watching the morning practice sessions for Hampson and Connor Joe, who spends time in the outfield and at designated hitter but started at first base on Wednesday. “But too often, we’re not protecting the ball like we should.

“Whether it’s throws, decisions, that’s where the problems have been. We do have to clean some decision-making up, and protect the ball better.”

On Wednesday, execution and misfortune combined to fell the Rockies in the Giants’ three-run fourth.

Pitcher Chad Kuhl (who struck out eight but allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) threw wildly on a pickoff to advance Mike Yastrzemski to second, and Yastrzemski scored on Joe’s wide throw to the plate on Brandon Crawford’s bouncer. The third run scored when Sam Hilliard was twisted by the wind in left and was in no position to throw after fielding Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly.

Third baseman Ryan McMahon, who had an uncharacteristic four errors in Philadelphia, missed a grounder that could have been an inning-ending double play in the eighth, opening the door for the Giants’ final two runs.

“We have to assess where we all are as a group, individually and as a group,” McMahon said. “But then you have to move on from it because we have another ballgame in a couple days.

“As a team we take a lot of pride in defense. I do specifically, and it’s eating at me a little bit. But I’ll be good to go and I’ll move past it in time for the next game.”

Whether miscues are made trying to make a big play or are just a result of mental lapses, they are all plays that scream fielding slump.

“When you go through a stretch of making great plays, there’s a confidence to play defense,” Black said. “Conversely, it works against you when you’re not making plays. It leads to playing a little tense, trying not to make a mistake, and that works against defenders.”

The struggles are compounded by a factor the current roster can’t do much about. Beyond McMahon, a Gold Glove finalist last year, and outfielders Yonathan Daza, Randal Grichuk and Hilliard, average is the upper level of the team’s defensive range.

“A player’s range is what it is,” Black said. “You can practice reads and jumps in the outfield, and as an infielder you can practice reading hops, knowing baserunners’ speed and positioning of the other infielders.”

But stealing outs isn’t as important as making makeable plays.

Other factors are compounding the Rockies’ issues. Left fielder Kris Bryant, expected to help the lineup offensively, had a cortisone shot Monday in his ailing back and may need a Minor League rehab assignment before returning. Grichuk didn’t play the last two games because of flu-like symptoms, and second baseman Brendan Rodgers missed the two games with wrist soreness sustained on his final at-bat on Monday.

But no matter who has played, the Rockies haven’t played good overall defense.

“We’ve made some good plays, but we talk about when an out is there, you have to get the out,” Hampson said. “You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to make errors. But they’re coming in big spots and it’s amplified.

“We know we’ve got to play better defense as a whole. We’ll get it done.”

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