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Dog days of summer make impact on Justin Lawrence and Colorado's youth movement

Patrick Lyons Avatar
September 5, 2023

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Children are back in school. Halloween decorations clutter the aisles. And the Colorado Rockies wrap up another regular season.

The difference this year is that the Rockies are on pace to lose more than 100 games with the dog days of summer having beaten them down more than normal.

Their 7-20 record in August was the first time losing as many in the month and the second time this season after an identical mark in the less than sweltering month of April. It’s their first season losing as many in a month since July 2014.

As it’s been all year long, the summer has provided the Rockies breathing room to examine what’s really important for 2024. The conclusion: allow the youth some space to ply their trade and learn about the grind of the 162-game season in lieu of a few extra wins.

Sep 3, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (14) celebrates with left fielder Nolan Jones (22) after scoring on an RBI in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

“I think it’s part of the learning experience and the growth part of all this. If they are feeling it, as you know, if you ask them, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ You know what they’re gonna say? ‘Fine,’ Bud Black said of the dog days of summer. “My experience tells me you can see that in some players. But you know, you got to push through that. I think that’s part of being an everyday player, really learning how to be an everyday player.”

Colorado has a pair of rookies vying for attention in the National League Rookie of the Year Award in Ezequiel Tovar and Nolan Jones, not to mention a third in Brenton Doyle who received national attention for touching 105.7 mph on a throw during Saturday’s 8-7 win.

“He’s been really good (knocks on wood) and at a premium position where it takes energy and focus to play a premium defensive position. But he’s handled it great,” Black said of the consistent starts for Tovar. “So I’ve been really impressed by that. And excited about that because he’s doing it in his first year and he’s not showing any signs of tiredness or lack of focus or heavy legs. Everything’s good. And it’s been really good to see. Been impressed.”

Tovar played 49 consecutive games following the birth of his son, Luciano. During that two month span of games from June 23 to Aug. 23, he played some of the best baseball of his first full campaign. Batting .267 with eight home runs and 27 RBI over the stretch, the 22-year-old saw improvements in nearly every category over his season averages, from on-base to slugging to strikeout percentage.

Jones is still learning to play outfield after coming through the Cleveland Guardians system as a third baseman. His routes to the ball still need work, but he’s been able to make up for deficiencies with a strong throwing arm that averages 98.7 mph per throw, best in the game this season. The 25-year-old has 12 outfield assists, most in franchise history for a rookie despite not being a part of the first 51 Rockies’ lineups.

Hunter Goodman is the latest rookie to make an immediate impact. It took until Aug. 27 for a chance with Colorado after tremendous success at Double-A and Triple-A. His 34 home runs are still 10 better than the next highest total for a Rockies’ prospect this season. 

Black figures the lighter slate of games in the minors may have something to do with the grind feeling like more of a challenge for the young players, but at 150 in Triple-A, Albuquerque still has a packed schedule even if every Monday is a mandated off-day. 

Goodman, for one, isn’t tiring. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI during Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring his total to seven runs batted in over as many games. During Sunday’s 8-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Coors Field, he joined a group of Rockies’ luminaries with at least eight hits and four extra-base hits through their first six games. The others: Trevor Story (2016), Nolan Arenado (2013) and Matt Holliday (2004).

Not everyone is having the same experience as Tovar, Jones, Doyle or Goodman. Alan Trejo, relegated to even less playing time with Brendan Rodgers back from the 60-day IL, is making the most of his limited plate appearances. 

“That just kind of comes with the territory, right? I’m not going to play every day,” he said following a home run against Atlanta last week. “Maybe get in once or twice a week. But I got to make the most out of that and try to be a good teammate when I’m not in there.”

Trejo is fine with his role saying, “I think it’s part of my job.” It also means on days he’s not starting, he needs to be ready for a late-inning at-bat as a pinch-hitter.

“We’re consistently talking on the bench about hitting,” the infielder said of his support system. “I lean on Chuck a lot. We have conversations about scouting reports and approach all the time, so they helped me out a lot.”

Aug 10, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Colorado Rockies second baseman Alan Trejo (13) hits a double against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While posting similar numbers to Goodman with the Isotopes earlier in the season, Elehuris Montero has also not seen his name in the starting lineup with regularity. He struggled during an audition after being selected as the Pacific Coast League Player of the Month for May and was eventually optioned back to Albuquerque in early July. 

The 25-year-old first baseman and designated hitter has performed better this time around even if the strikeout percentage has crept closer to 40%. On Friday, in his first action in a week, Montero went 2-for-4 with a homer run. He followed that with two hits the next two days before taking a seat on Monday.

For Justin Lawrence, the pressure of his first full-season with Colorado — not to mention with being responsible for the final three outs as the club’s closer — boiled over on Sunday. Surrendering the go-ahead run to the Blue Jays in the ninth, he suffered his seventh loss of the season. 

“The reality of the situation is just I’ve let our team down for the past three weeks, almost a month now,” Lawrence said. “It’s frustrating because I’m not just going out there and doing the same thing and hoping for a different result. I talk to the coaches, I’m watching film. It’s just tough right now.”

At 50-87, the likelihood of avoiding 100 losses is small. It’s not impossible to go 13-12 the rest of the way, something the club was able to do for stretches during the first two months. Since then, the closest they’ve come is a string of 12-13 that ended on Aug. 8 and included four consecutive days of the rest due to the All-Star break.

As Lawrence mentioned when discussing his difficulty, “Teams trying to make a push for the playoffs, they’re going to do their extra homework.” With the San Diego Padres as the only non-contender remaining on Colorado’s schedule, it will be even more of a challenge for the 28-man roster to persevere as many of them look to establish themselves and their careers. 

This, in spite of the rising loss total, may become an ideal environment for the youth to take root, grow and see just how strong they can become. 

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