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The Rockies’ long, often fruitless search for a solid defensive catcher, who also can put the ball over the wall, might be over.
Emphasis on might.
Because everyone from owner Dick Monfort to Dinger knows that working behind the plate at Coors Field takes a serious toll on the body, whittles down batting averages, and drains catchers of their power.
But Elias Díaz’s month-plus home run surge, combined with his significant improvements behind the plate, has the Rockies encouraged.
“We felt all along that the talent was in there,” manager Bud Black said prior to Colorado’s Wednesday night game against the Cubs. “Trust is developing between us and him. We like where he’s gotten to, as far as the foundation of what it takes to be a successful catcher.
“We are very comfortable with where he is and what he’s been doing, especially the last couple of months.”
Diaz, 30, hit a grand slam against the Cubs Tuesday night, the first slam of his career and his career-high 12th home run of the season. He hit four homers on the Rockies’ recent 10-game road trip and launched seven home runs in July. His 10 home runs since June 28 are tied for the fourth-most in the majors among all players, as well as the most ever hit in a 23-game span by a Rockies catcher.
Díaz’s 180-degree spin has been remarkable. At the end of May, he was slashing .125/.193/.381 with one home run. At the end of June, his line was .177/.260/.560 with a total of four home runs.
“I tried to stay the course, maintain a positive attitude and keep it simple,” Díaz said, using bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz to translate. “Mostly, throughout the struggles, I didn’t try to do too much.”
Black loves having Díaz’s power in the lower part of the order, but more important to Black has been the catcher’s development behind the plate. Black gives Díaz a thumbs up on blocking pitches, receiving and throwing. Díaz has thrown out eight would-be base stealers (tied for seventh in the National League), while his 45.5 caught-stealing percentage is the highest in the majors.
Most of all, Black is pleased with the catcher’s improving game-calling skills and the relationship he’s forging with Rockies pitchers.
“There is a comfort level with the pitchers,” Black said. “Elias is taking the pre-game scouting report into the game and then making adjustments as the game goes on. He’s making adjustments on the fly, based on the (pitcher’s) stuff and command, on each and every pitch. That has stood out to me.”
Left-hander Kyle Freeland said the pitcher-catcher relationship with Diaz has grown from spring training.
“It was a matter of him getting comfortable with our starting staff and relievers, knowing our repertoire,” Freeland said. “Obviously that takes some time. But he’s really done a good job learning how we like to pitch.”
Freeland update. Freeland, who took a comebacker off his left foot in the fifth inning Tuesday night, woke up sore Wednesday but he was still able to play catch and take batting practice before the game.
Black said the club is in wait-and-see mode regarding Freeland’s next start, which is scheduled for Sunday against the Marlins. Freeland, however, is confident he’ll be ready to pitch.
“Waking up this morning was a little rough, but after moving around and getting some treatment it’s feeling better,” he said. “It’s good to go. I’m not worried about it.”
Footnotes. Right-hander Peter Lambert, working his way back from last summer’s Tommy John surgery, threw two 20-pitch innings of live batting practice Wednesday. The Rockies are encouraged by Lambert’s progress and Black said he expects Lambert to pitch for the big-league club in September. … Right-hander reliever Robert Stephenson (upper-back tightness) was reinstated from the injured list Wednesday and right-hander Antonio Santo was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Cubs RHP Jake Arrieta (5-10, 6.20 ERA) at Rockies RHP Antonio Senzatela (2-8, 4.58)
1:10 p.m. Thursday, Coors Field
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 FM
The Rockies haven’t officially announced that Senzatela will start Thursday, but he’s lined up to do so. He’s coming back from a bout with COVID-19 that left him feeling achy. Senzatela was placed on the injured list after the all-star game. He pitched four innings in a minor league game last Saturday, throwing 40 pitches, followed by an additional 20 pitches in the bullpen to build arm strength. In four career games (three starts) vs. the Cubs, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA. In 10 starts at Coors Field this season, he’s 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA, striking out 5.3 batters per nine innings and walking 3.18. Arrieta was activated from the IL and took a loss in a start on July 30 at Washington. The veteran right-hander has struggled this season, going 0-5 with a 9.55 ERA in his last eight starts. Thursday marks Arrieta’s seventh career start vs. the Rockies. He’s 2-3 with a 5.82 ERA, including 0-3 with a 10.43 ERA in three starts at Coors Field.
Trending: Colorado entered Wednesday night’s game with 50 quality starts, which ranks third in the majors behind the Athletics and Dodgers (56 each). The Rockies, however, are just 33-17 in those 50 starts.
At issue: The Rockies are experimenting with a number of relievers this season, trying to find the right arms for the future. But it’s clear that the Rockies will need to find a late-game reliever in the offseason because the bullpen’s ERA is 5.44, the highest in the National League.
Friday: Marlins LHP Trevor Rogers (7-6, 2.45) at Rockies RHP German Marquez (9-8, 3.51), 6:40 p.m., ATTRM
Saturday: Marlins RHP Sandy Alcantara (6-9, 2.12) at Rockies LHP Austin Gomber (8-6, 4.04), 6:10 p.m., ATTRM
Sunday: Marlins TBD at Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (2-6, 4.46), 1:10 p.m., ATTRM