4/22/2014 9:18 P.M. ET
Blackmon swinging hot bat in leadoff role
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- As last season ended, Rockies manager Walt Weiss told outfielder Charlie Blackmon he wanted him to prepare to be a leadoff hitter.
It turns out that with Blackmon making a slight modification to his approach, Weiss has found a good place for Blackmon's skills, and Blackmon has found a home.
Going into Tuesday night's game against the Giants, which Blackmon didn't start against tough left-hander Madison Bumgarner, Blackmon led the National League with a .411 batting average and at 1.121 was third in the Majors in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) behind teammate Troy Tulowitzki (1.131) and the Braves' Freddie Freeman (1.125).
"It's something that maybe right out of the gate I'm not completely comfortable with, but on the other hand, it's one of the more important positions in the lineup," Blackmon said. "We've got a lot of really good hitters in the lineup in the middle of the order, so it's important for that guy to be on base.
"That's a thing I've embraced. I've kind of taken it as a personal challenge, to be on base, to work counts, to get some hits, create some traffic for those big swingers behind me."
Blackmon has done more than reach base. He hit two home runs in Monday night's 8-2 victory over the Giants to raise his total to four. The only player with more from the No. 1 position going into Tuesday was the Brewers' Carlos Gomez, with five. His .442 leadoff on-base percentage is the highest of anyone with at least 70 leadoff at-bats, and his 15 runs are tied for third-most.
Before this season, Blackmon had a .291 batting average but an un-leadoff-like .321 on-base percentage in parts of three seasons (in and around foot injuries and Triple-A stints).
Still, after the Rockies moved erstwhile leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler (receiving outfielder Brandon Barnes and pitcher Jordan Lyles from the Astros), Weiss quietly believed Blackmon would work at No. 1. In addition to his hitting, Weiss saw speed that had been obscured by foot injuries in 2011 and '12.
"I don't think he had to modify a whole lot -- the skill set was there," Weiss said.
Blackmon said the biggest adjustment has been patience. Blackmon is seeing 3.86 pitches per plate appearance overall, 3.79 as a leadoff man. The leadoff P/PA is 59th among leadoff men in the Majors (some with limited plate appearances). Still, this year's numbers are higher than his 3.63 P/PA from last season. It's early, but if his increases hold over a long period, they would be considered healthy, even if he's doesn't rank high among leadoff men.
His approach is to see pitches, but he doesn't want to lose aggressiveness.
The balance was at work Monday night. His first home run came after he worked a 2-1 count against Ryan Vogelsong, and his second came on Juan Gutierrez's 0-1 pitch.
"I honestly think [being a leadoff man] fits pretty well," Blackmon said. "I like to have at-bats where I see a lot of pitches. I like to feel comfortable deeper in the count. But I like to not necessarily have to do that if I don't want to. I like the luxury of being able to swing early in the count, which sometimes I feel like you can't do in the leadoff spot."
LeMahieu shines at plate with runners on base
DENVER -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu lights up when runners are on base. The closer to home, the better.
Regularly batting No. 8 in the lineup, LeMahieu carried a respectable .283 overall batting average into Tuesday night's game against the Giants.
With the bases empty, the batting average was just .258, although he had two doubles and a healthy .343 on-base percentage that kept innings alive.
But with men on, he was a .310 hitter with a .364 on-base percentage, two doubles and 10 RBIs. Put those runners in scoring position and his average zoomed to .471 with a .524 OBP and nine of his 10 RBIs.
"I would say that I don't hit a lot of home runs, so I've got to drive in runs other ways," LeMahieu said. "I've got to be good in those situations. It's the type of hitter I need to be. Every runner that's out there, I want that RBI."
LeMahieu said he doesn't believe hitting with bases empty is harder. It's just understanding the need to reach, even if by walk.
"You're trying to get on base, give those other guys opportunities, then try to cause havoc on the bases," he said.
Barnes, Stubbs join lineup against tough lefty
DENVER -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss saw Tuesday night's game against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner as an opportunity to play right-handed-hitting outfielders Brandon Barnes, who batted leadoff, and Drew Stubbs, who hit seventh.
To do so, Weiss had to sit leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, who homered twice in Monday night's 8-2 victory over the Giants and entered the night leading the National League with a .411 batting average, and Corey Dickerson, who also homered in the series opener.
"It's tough to take especially Charlie out of the lineup the way he's playing," Weiss said. "Bumgarner is a bit of a different animal. He's one of the tougher lefties in the league. I've got to pick my spots to give Charlie a day, get the other guys involved, get some right-handed bats in the lineup against a guy like Bumgarner."
The Rockies used a similar lineup against Bumgarner on April 11 in a 6-5 Giants win. But the Rockies' nine hits and four earned runs were the most this year against Bumgarner, the Giants' Opening Day starter.
Blackmon struck out in all three previous at-bats against Bumgarner, and Dickerson struck out in his lone at-bat. Barnes was 2-for-4 with a strikeout, and Stubbs was 2-for-12 with a triple, five strikeouts and three walks.