Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder Sam Hilliard must cut down on his strikeouts to earn manager Bud Black’s trust.
Friday night, the Colorado Rockies are trailing the San Diego Padres by a run in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs. Padres closer Kirby Yates has been ineffective, so they turn to left-hander Drew Pomeranz to put out the Rockies’ rally with left-handed-hitting Sam Hilliard due up.
Instead of leaving Hilliard in to potentially be the game-winning hero, Bud Black goes to the bench and inserts right-handed veteran Chris Owings. With a 2-2 count, Owings hits a lazy fly ball to center. Game over. Rockies lose by a final score of 8-7.
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Now, there are a lot more important things to nitpick from the home opener, so why am I singling out this one? It is because it shows that Hilliard has not yet earned Black’s trust in such a high-pressure situation.
I realize that Black is a situational manager who wanted to get to a right-on-left matchup, but had it been any other lefty in the lineup, Black would have likely stuck with that batter. Instead, he went with Owings, who is a career .240/.284/.364 hitter in his eighth MLB season.
Hilliard has the potential to be an All-Star in this game and a fixture in the Rockies’ everyday lineup for years to come. He showed that in his September call-up last season when he slashed .273/.356/.649 with seven home runs and 13 RBI in 77 at-bats.
However, there is one gaping hole that has to corrected if Black is going to give Hilliard that chance to be the hero in the ninth … and that is his strikeouts. Last season, in his 77 at-bats, he struck out 23 times. In the five games he has played in this season, he has struck out in 10 of his 16 at-bats.
Those are the types of strikeout numbers that won’t get him put into high leverage situations late in ball games, no matter how far he can hit a ball into the stands on any given moment.