CarGo excelling since move to center, leadoff
Rockies reaping benefits since placing Fowler on disabled list
DENVER -- Carlos Gonzalez won a Gold Glove in 2010 while splitting time at three outfield positions. He made 55 starts in center, 51 in left, and 34 in right.
Nevertheless, Rockies manager Jim Tracy expected to use him exclusively in left field this season, taking the demands of center off his plate while relying on another Gold-Glove-caliber fielder, Dexter Fowler, to patrol the expansive green of Coors Field's center field.
But when Fowler hit the disabled list in early June with an abdominal strain, "CarGo" returned to center field and the leadoff spot in the order, hitting .358 (29-for-81) with a .617 slugging percentage since, entering Tuesday's opener with the White Sox. A Silver Slugger winner last season, the moves have given a 33-point jolt to Gonzalez's batting average.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
"If it did anything, [leading Gonzalez off] heightened the awareness of something that we were talking to him an awful lot about, and that's the fact that, 'You know how good a hitter you are when you make the other team throw the ball over the plate?'" Tracy said. "It also added thought process for me with Jason Giambi sitting over here on the bench, having to very keenly pick his spot, knowing that you don't want to just send him up there and just have the other [manager walk him].
"You've got a runner on second base that represent the tying run, and you send Jason Giambi up there to hit [for the pitcher] with first base open. You want to walk him and put the go-ahead run on and pitch to Carlos Gonzalez? I'm OK with that. I'm good with that."
Though Gonzalez and Fowler make a very good tandem while roaming the outfield together, Tracy had few qualms about moving the former back to center.
"He's just a terrific outfielder. Period," Tracy said. "It doesn't matter where you play him. He's a terrific outfielder. One of the best in the game. He's a Gold Glove winner. Whenever you fill out your ballot, at whatever position you want to put him at in the outfield, you won't be wrong."
Blackmon adjusting to life in the big leagues
DENVER -- Charlie Blackmon has taken a textbook route to the Major Leagues -- for an accelerated class. Now in his fourth professional season, he's moved up a level every year, making his Triple-A debut on Opening Day this season and making his first big league appearance in a start on June 7.
Blackmon hit .312 through his first three years in the Minors and was hitting .337 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in 58 games for Colorado Springs when he got the call to the parent club, taking the injured Dexter Fowler's spot on the Rockies' roster. He kept the surge going in the Majors, with his average peaking at .410 after a 4-for-4 outing on June 17.
But opposing staffs have started to pay attention to the left fielder, and he suffered through a 1-for-20 road trip, cooling his average to a respectable .277 before returning to Coors Field on Tuesday.
"I'm getting pitched a little differently," Blackmon said. "I've had to make a few adjustments, but that's nothing new. It's baseball. I'm not seeing just fastballs away, the standard stuff, I'm seeing a little bit of everything."
Among the adjustments Blackmon has made this season is switching from center field, after playing it his whole professional career, to the corner outfield positions. He's made all his starts with the Rockies in left.
"It's not as easy as I thought it would be," Blackmon said. "You get so used to being in one spot, and you see exactly where the pitch is going and you see the swing and you see exactly how the ball comes off the bat. Then you're over here on the side, and it's a completely different angle. You don't get as true as a read. There's more side spin. It's different."
The move was made in Spring Training, in hopes of finding the ideal route to the Majors.
"Quite frankly, it made a lot more sense from the standpoint of getting him to the big leagues. If the situation suggested that we need the guy, obviously that situation came about, he'd be better served playing in a corner," said Colorado manager Jim Tracy. "If you're pinning me down, I personally feel that Charlie Blackmon's best place in the big leagues is going to be as a corner outfielder."
Part of the problem for Blackmon was Fowler's prowess in center field, alongside Carlos Gonzalez, who won a Gold Glove in 2010 while logging more games at center then any of the three other two outfield positions. Ironically, it was Fowler's injury that opened the door for Blackmon, but he has shown the ability to handle the wide open spaces of Coors Field's left side in his first month with the club.
"Coors Field is very big," Blackmon said. "There's a lot of balls that are hit, and the problem is that it's so big, you have to play deep, but there's so much grass, so you see balls that are in the air for a while and you feel like you should be able to catch them -- but you just don't get there, because they're too far away. It's different."
Rox staring at critical stretch before break
DENVER -- After a phenomenal April (17-8) and a difficult May (8-21), the Rockies have found a level of consistency, sitting at 13-11 in June with a three-game series against the White Sox to play.
"It's a very important 13 games between now and the [All-Star] break," said manager Jim Tracy. "When you look at what we've been up to from the standpoint of having to use youth -- where you have young guys at second base, you have a young kid in left field, you have two young left-handed arms in your bullpen, you have a young right-handed arm as your long man -- to be able to be sitting where we're at, very near the .500 mark, these 13 games become significant from the standpoint of, 'Are you able in the next two weeks to continue to at least maintain yourself?'
"Now if you go beyond that, that's terrific. But that's the goal moving forward."
The Rockies are three games behind the pace they set in 2010, when they were 41-37 after 78 games, and with a six-game Interleague homestand followed by a week in Atlanta and Washington before the break, Tracy is ready to see his club show itself as a contender.
The contingent of young Rockies face a sharp learning curve, but Tracy sees steady growth and is encouraged by the club's ability to remain within a win streak of first place as they approach the season's midpoint.
"You want it to be perfect every single day, but unfortunately with the youth that we have on this club, it's not going to be that way," Tracy said. "Would we like to be in a better place? Yeah, we certainly would like to be. But youth grows. Each and every day you come out here, youth gets better, and youth gets very, very familiar with its surroundings.
"It gets to the point where they realize the fact that, 'Hey, I belong here.' That's why you come out here every day and play."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.