Blackmon back atop the Colorado order, where he set records

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Charlie Blackmon, the most prolific leadoff hitter in Colorado history, is back at the top of the order this season. He is all in.

“I’ll be comfortable there, no problem,” Blackmon said.

The comfort level works both ways. Blackmon was the Rockies’ primary leadoff hitter from his first season as a regular in 2014 through 2019, and with it came immediate results.

Blackmon set records for leadoff during his six-year run. In 2017, he set major league records with 103 RBIs and 383 total bases from the top spot, and his 86 extra-base hits that year are a National League record and the third-most in major league history.

Things are different now, but the rush of starting a game from the top remains.

“It’s exciting when you are on base to start the game,” Blackmon said. “You feel like you have really done a great job for your team and put yourselves in a good position to score runs early, which is always great.”

Blackmon, 35, hit in the middle of the Rockies’ order the last two seasons, a move seen as a way to complement Trevor Story and create more production after the departure of Nolan Arenado in 2021.

While Story is gone, the arrival of Kris Bryant and Randal Grichuk this spring and the power shown by C.J. Cron a year ago prompted Rockies manager Bud Black to go back to Blackmon at leadoff.

“You like to get your best hitters at the top of the lineup,” Black said. “Charlie has proven to be a great major league hitter. For me the role is a couple of different things. A guy who can get on base. A guy you want up as many times as possible in a game. Good base runner. Maybe not based stealer any more, but a smart player.

“Understands the game. Understands what he needs to do to start a game. It could be anything, It could be first pitch hack, homer. Giving a great at-bat to see a number of pitches that the guys following behind him see early in a game. It’s many things. Charlie is capable of all those things.”

Brendan Rodgers, Bryant, Cron, Ryan McMahon and Grichuk are projected to follow Blackmon in varying orders in a lineup that is still somewhat fluid with the addition of the DH, a position that Blackmon may play at times.

“It’s a good problem when you have so many middle-of-the-order bats,” Blackmon said. “That’s really what we have going on.”

Because of the universal DH, the opportunity may increase for a leadoff man to hit with runners on base.

Blackmon no longer will be asked to steal 43 bases, as he did in 2015, but he does plan take advantage when the opportunity arises.

“It will be trying to run with a really high percentage,” Blackmon said. “I don’t think I’ll be pushing the envelope. If I go, I’ll try to make sure I’m safe.”

Blackmon’s home run total has dropped the last two years, from six in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 to 13 in 2021, his lowest in a full season since 2014. But he added 25 doubles and 78 RBIs a year ago, a figure he has exceeded only three times in his career.

There was a general downturn in offense last season, especially in the first 2 1/2 months before rules were enforced to limit the amount of rosin/pine tar/sunscreen pitchers could apply to balls.

“The balls changed last year,” Blackmon said. “They made them somehow softer or slower. There was some sticky stuff going around … Balls were doing things that I’ve never seen balls do before.

“I certainly think there is a reasonable amount that (pitchers) can use to achieve confidence in their grip, and to an extent maybe even a little bit of tackiness from which to really rip on the seams. Undoubtedly, it has been proven, there have been guys who have been using it, like, cheating.”

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