|Jordan Pacheco has been huge for the Rockies.|
That is exactly what happened on Tuesday night in Atlanta, where the Rockies blanked the Braves 6-0, using a great play from DJ LeMahieu, the consistent hot bat of Jordan Pacheco, and the rubber arms of their extremely overused bullpen.
The Rockies were winning 2-0 in the 6th inning, but reliever Carlos Torres was in trouble. With one out, Torres allowed singles to Martin Prado and Jason Heyward, leaving runners on the corners with just one out. With Heyward's speed, a ball in the gap would tie up the game, and even a sacrifice fly would cut the lead to just one. At the plate David Ross struck out on a moving fastball with Heyward looking to swipe second base. Catcher Wilin Rosario threw a bullet to the base and Heyward knew he was out. He retreated towards first trying to give Prado a chance to score. LeMahieu wisely ran Heyward back to the bag, then threw a bullet to the plate when Prado had committed to home. Rosario got the tag down, completing the 1-2-4-2 double play to end the inning. Instead of being in trouble, the Rockies were suddenly in control of the momentum.
At the plate, the Rockies continue to get impressive at-bats from Pacheco. In possibly the quietest rookie season in recent memory, the infielder has put up a 13-game hitting streak that has seen his average raise to .313. On Tuesday, he added two more hits, including his fourth home run of the year. His two RBIs gave him a 41 on the season.
Pacheco was the guy who was simply keeping Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado's seat warm. When Casey Blake couldn't overcome his neck injuries in spring training, the Rockies handed the job to Pacheco with the hope that he could play decent enough to bridge the gap to Arenado, who the team thought would be up around June 1st.
The New Mexico native had his critics. He had been moved from third base from catcher, and to catcher from second base when he was drafted. Many felt that he didn't have a good enough glove to play third base in the minor leagues, let alone the big leagues. They also questioned his ability to hit consistently at the big league level.
All Pacheco has done is become the most dependable bat in the entire Rockies lineup. Instead of being shipped back to Colorado Springs a third of the way through the season, Pacheco has forced Jim Tracy's hand. He simply has to be in the lineup every single day. He logged not one, but two hits against Reds flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, and he hasn't seemed intimidated by any pitchers at the big league level.
His approach to the game makes it look easy. He doesn't fidget with his batting gloves or swing too hard, he simply sees the ball and hits it.
Back in June during the season ticket holder conference call that Dan O'Dowd hosted, a fan of Pacheco's asked the GM where he anticipated seeing the rookie in the future. O'Dowd was quick to point out that Pacheco had hit and fielded better than they expected. However, his next comment made him seem out of touch with just how good the season has been for his third baseman. O'Dowd made it clear that if Pacheco wanted to stay in the big leagues consistently that he would have to learn to hit for more power. At that point he only had one home run and was never really a threat to go deep.
The answer was the last thing any Rockies fan would want to hear. Regardless of his position at third base, a spot usually held by a power hitter, Pacheco consistently takes one of the better at-bats of anyone in the entire Rockies lineup. He puts the bat on the ball, hits to the opposite field, recognizes and isn't often fooled by breaking pitches and simply goes about his business. If there isn't any power, it shouldn't matter.
If Pacheco is hitting at nearly .315, there is no way that he should come out of the lineup. He is always on base. The flip side for Pacheco is that he isn't a typical singles hitter who has no business hitting home runs. He possesses the body type to hit for a decent amount of power, and his swing is good enough to hit the ball out of the park, he just hasn't been doing it. Sometimes young hitters don't develop their power until they have been in the league for a full season or two. Getting comfortable seeing pitches at the big league level will help Pacheco recognize when he can put some extra mustard behind his swing. With more consistent time, he will probably hit closer to 15 home runs per season, plenty good when the everyday shortstop can be penciled in for 30 when he is healthy.
The reality is, everyone discounted Pacheco. He was an afterthought. He was a guy who everyone had relegated to a bench role. Instead, he has forced playing time. He hasn't had any rookie hiccups, and despite playing a new position defensively, he has never let it affect his at-bats, and in fact, has looked started to look very good at third base.
His emergence is a good sign for the Rockies as they move forward. Guys like Jordan Pacheco don't ever have to be the superstar, but they can play like one when no one expects them to.
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