PITTSBURGH — Losing Nolan Arenado to a five-game suspension has many downsides to it for the Colorado Rockies. However, one positive that could come out of the situation is the chance for manager Bud Black to tinker with his lineup and see what might possibly work later in the season.
Without Arenado in the lineup, DJ LeMahieu has been leading off games while Charlie Blackmon has slid into the third slot, an idea that was floated around during spring training to much fanfare. Now, that notion has become a reality … and the early results are showing promise.
LeMahieu blasted his fifth homer of the season in Sunday’s 6-5 win in Washington. That’s a number he didn’t hit until August 26 last season. Batting first this year, LeMahieu is hitting .310/.333/.724. Batting second, his slash line is .308/.413/.513. He’s walked seven times in the two hole while recording just one free pass as a leadoff hitter.
Colorado’s All-Star second baseman hit .385 as a leadoff hitter in 13 at-bats last season. In his career, his leadoff slash line is .257/.302/.419 in 159 plate appearances. That compares to .311/.372/.419 in 1,793 plate appearances batting second.
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Blackmon, meanwhile, in two games in the three spot this season (in Washington against Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) is posting a .375/.375/1.250 line with a 1.625 OPS. In 25 career plate appearances in the lineup’s third spot, the numbers are .375/.400/.708 with a 1.108 OPS.
Results from the second spot show Blackmon with a .234/.308/.340 line in 53 career plate appearances.
Will this current LeMahieu and Blackmon batting combination change when Arenado returns? Absolutely. However, it could set up an even different scenario at the top of the lineup. How about a top three of LeMahieu, Blackmon and Arenado, in that order? It’s possible, Black says. It would also set up a right-left-right punch at the top of the order.
"“Potentially, you could see DJ leading off. You could see Charlie second and Nolan third. That could happen for sure,” Black told Rox Pile and other reporters inside the Rockies clubhouse on Monday afternoon. “We think about these things. We talk about these things a lot, about lineup construction. Ultimately, though, guys have to hit no matter where they are. That’s the key.“Like I’ve said, you want to have five or six guys hitting. There are some advantages to DJ hitting first. There are some advantages to Charlie hitting first. There are some advantages to Charlie hitting third. There are some advantages to DJ hitting second.”"
Black says he likes what he has seen from LeMahieu so far this season. Our own Jake Shapiro broke down some of the statistical parts of LeMahieu’s power surge in this article.
"“This surge of power early in the year I think is something pitchers have to be aware of,” Black said of LeMahieu. “With a leadoff hitter, the number one priority is on-base percentage and getting on. Also the ability to work the pitcher a little bit to let the guys behind him see some of the stuff the pitcher has early in the game.”"
That applies to both LeMahieu and Blackmon. It could also mean that either of them could lead off later in the season … with either of them joining Arenado to form a “same but different” power-filled top of the lineup.