09/17/08 3:22 PM ET
Baker proves he belongs in bigs
Infielder has gone through ups and downs this season
By Jeff Birnbaum / MLB.com
"We've seen that he's a Major League player," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday.
Baker's playing time has been significantly reduced the past month, but he proved he belongs on the biggest stage. Starting Tuesday for just the eighth time in the past 29 games, Baker went 3-for-4 against the Padres and fell a triple short of his first career cycle.
"The guys in the dugout were messing with me, telling me to just keep running," said Baker, who flew out in his final at-bat. "But triples aren't something I do too well."
Home runs are more Baker's style, and he extended his career high to 10 by launching a three-run shot 447 feet to dead center in the fifth. It was his first home run since July 27, a span of 46 games.
Back then, Baker was a fixture at second base and hitting .302. But his average has plummeted since then -- he's hitting .177 since his last homer to drop to .260 -- and so has his playing time.
Tuesday harkened back to earlier this season, when Baker scorched the ball and was even named National League Player of the Week from June 16-22.
"Anytime you get an opportunity when your name's in the lineup, you want to do well and try to give your team a lift that day," he said. "I've always believed in myself and my abilities."
So has Hurdle. The problem is finding a spot for Baker on the diamond. Ian Stewart has been electric at third, and Clint Barmes has been extremely consistent at second. Baker has started 13 games at first this year, but that's his weakest position in the infield.
With the team's current makeup, Hurdle acknowledged that it seems unlikely Baker will be able to reestablish himself as an everyday player.
"Right now at the present time, but every winter presents challenges and you don't know how things are going to work out as you go forward," Hurdle said. "But I think he did some things for us to have a more appreciative feeling for him."
Baker isn't stressing about his future.
"I don't put too much worry or thought into that," he said. "Everything seems to work out one way or another."
This season has seen Baker come full circle. He began the year as a role player, worked his way into the starting lineup and is now back to coming off the bench.
Whatever happens, Baker knows this season will only make him stronger.
"It's been a learning experience all the way through," he said. "It's something I'll be able to take with me throughout my career."
Jeff Birnbaum is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.