Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Colorado Rockies still learning from Lansford

The Colorado Rockies did it again on Tuesday night at Coors Field. The scored just three runs, all on solo home runs, and went home losers, 4-3.

The Rockies have scored more more than four runs just twice since April 22nd. They have seen their lead in the National League West shrink from a comfortable 4-1/2 games, to just a half of a game. It is still early, and standings are not important at this point, but this certainly is not what the Rockies were hoping for after an impressive April.

At the plate, the Rockies struggles are baffling. Usually a team has a couple of guys get hot at the same time, and then a couple of guys who go cold. For the Rockies, the struggles are affecting everyone.

The biggest insult of the night comes from the boxscore. Opposing pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who holds a batting average of .071, went 1-for-1 with runners in scoring position, driving a Jason Hammel pitch into the right-center field gap, scoring two runs and giving the Mets a 4-2 lead. Ironically, the one hit from Pelfrey was one more hit then the Rockies had with runners in scoring position. In fact, the Rockies only had a runner on second base once beyond the three solo shots.

The past few days have seen the rumblings in Rockies nation directed less at a certain player, and more towards a certain coach. Carney Lansford, brought in to replace Don Baylor as the hitting coach, is already seeing his job being called into question.

It is early, but the questions are justified. After all, the club has suddenly become the worst hitting team in the National League. They are showing no signs of figuring things out, and they look collectively lost at the plate. That makes sense when Tim Lincecum is on the mound, but when the likes of Ryan Vogelsong, Chris Capuano and Mike Pelfrey are baffling hitters, there are huge problems.

Despite the struggles, it is not time to blame Lansford. This is the hitting coach who has received rave reviews from many of the Rockies hitters who worked with him while on their way to the big leagues when he was the hitting coach at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

It is easy to suggest that the problems that the Rockies have as a whole should be blamed on their new approach. However, it just isn't that easy.

Like a bad habit, the Rockies are not simply going to stop doing what they have been doing over the last two seasons. Baylor had the Rockies thinking about swinging for the fences every chance they got. Moving runners over, playing small ball, and hitting to the opposite field simply isn't in the Baylor playbook.

The adjustments that Lansford is making are going to take time. He can't fix anyones approach without breaking them down first. Unfortunately, what that means for many of the Rockies hitters who are slumping, is that they have to deal with an adjustment period of going from one type of swing to the next.

It is a necessary fix, something that has to be done for long-term success, but it isn't easy, and the road to being ultimately better is going to take some time and a learning curve. That is what many of the Rockies are going through right now.

Another example of Lansford's knowledge comes from the results of Todd Helton. The grizzly first baseman is such a student of the game, and his swing, that changing mechanical flaws comes quicker and easier to him then some of the other players. Lansford's coaching had done wonders for Helton, whose swing looks completely better. Instead of dropping his back shoulder as he was last season, Helton is driving through the ball, and the results are undeniable. Not only is he hitting .311, but he is driving the ball with authority, something that hasn't been seen since the middle of 2009.

The Rockies will eventually figure out their swings. They will eventually get comfortable with their new approach, and the lessons that have been ingrained into their heads over the past two years will slowly fade away. At that point, the Rockies will start hitting that ball, and Lansford will be praised for how he turned around a team that had been struggling to find themselves at the plate.

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