Rock­ies’ Blackmon, Lemahieu are ready for their all-star road trip

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Groke

Char­lie Blackmon balked at the idea he might get DJ Lemahieu into trou­ble, drag­ging his buddy into some ad­ven­ture on the high seas of the At­lantic Ocean; base­ball stars with two faces, one of them bearded and bushy and the other dry and quiet.

The core of the Rock­ies’ mid­dle de­fense, Blackmon in cen­ter field and Lemahieu at sec­ond base, could not, on the sur­face, seem fur­ther apart in per­son­al­ity. But in their fifth sea­son to­gether, after weath­er­ing the dog years of los­ing base­ball in Colorado, they are fi­nally all-stars to­gether on a win­ning team.

Blackmon was voted by fans as the start­ing cen­ter fielder for the Na­tional League in Tues­day’s Mid­sum­mer Clas­sic in Miami. Lemahieu was elected as a backup sec­ond base­man by a vote of play­ers and man­agers. They are two of four Rock­ies se­lected, along with start­ing third base­man Nolan Are­nado and right-handed closer Greg Hol­land.

Wed­nes­day in Miami, there is a day lin­ger­ing without any base­ball, a time to fill in some­thing else. Blackmon’s mind is rac­ing. He has fished the rivers of the west­ern United States, com­muned with the an­i­mal king­dom, surfed the Pa­cific and back­packed through Europe. What might Miami of­fer for fun?

“He’s got some crazy ideas about it,” Lemahieu said. “I’m like, ‘Whoa. How about just an off day?’ ”

Their Os­car-and-felix rou­tine, though, can only go so far.

“If I want to make plans with DJ,” Blackmon said, “I have to call his wife. He’s a busy guy.”

Through just over half this sea­son, Blackmon, now a two-time all-star, has been among the best hit­ters in base­ball, with more hits and to­tal bases than any other player head­ing into Fri­day. He is a rare com­bi­na­tion of base­ball bona fides: a lead­off hit­ter with power num­bers; a pro­to­typ­i­cal cor­ner out­fielder with smarts enough to de­fend the ex­panse of Coors Field’s cen­ter field and some­one with a line­backer-look­ing frame who can steal bases.

Blackmon ranked first in the Na­tional League and sec­ond over­all among ma­jor-league cen­ter field­ers in home runs (18) and OPS (on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age, at .937) en­ter­ing Fri­day.

“I don’t have to be the best hit­ter. I just never want to be the worst hit­ter,” Blackmon said. “If I can be con­sis­tent

and take away those peaks and val­leys, you can have a re­ally good feel for hit­ting.”

Win­ning the day

Blackmon’s im­prove­ment as an ev­ery­day player hap­pened in daily in­cre­ments, he said. When he de­buted for the Rock­ies in 2011, he was a backup be­hind Dex­ter Fowler. He was a backup through 2013 un­til the Rock­ies traded Fowler be­fore hav­ing to pay him in free agency. Blackmon shot onto the NL all-star team in 2014 with a flashy first month.

In the three years since, Blackmon added facets to his game that did not pre­vi­ously ex­ist on his scout­ing re­port. He stole 43 bases in 2015. He hit 29 home runs in 2016. He leads the league in triples this sea­son.

“Char­lie has come into his own,” Colorado man­ager Bud Black said. “Early Char­lie was at a (cer­tain) level and he’s taken his game to a re­ally high level. Play­ers should get in­cre­men­tally bet­ter. But Char­lie re­ally took off as a tal­ent. He works at it. His daily prepa­ra­tion is re­ally good. It’s not only phys­i­cal but it’s men­tal and it’s in­tel­lec­tual, study­ing pitch­ers and scout­ing re­ports.”

Lemahieu’s tra­jec­tory ran par­al­lel. After de­but­ing with the Cubs in 2011 he was traded to Colorado for, among oth­ers, third base­man Ian Ste­wart. He joined a club with es­tab­lished stars in Troy Tu­low­itzki and Todd Hel­ton.

He, like Blackmon, learned how to keep im­prov­ing. His OPS climbed in 2015 and 2016, from .663 to .746 to .911 last year. His rangy de­fense, which earned him a Gold Glove Award in 2014, pro­pelled Lemahieu onto the all-star team in 2015. But his break­out 2016 sea­son — he won the Na­tional League bat­ting ti­tle with a .348 av­er­age — car­ried him into a sec­ond all-star spot this sea­son, even though a first-month slump dipped his sta­tis­tics. Head­ing into Fri­day he was hit­ting .306.

“I try to do my thing,” he said. “I try to play the game the right way, do things right. We have a lot of guys like that around this locker room.”

Ad­mired through­out base­ball

Lemahieu’s place among the NL all-stars comes with some de­bate among fans. His spot on the team was earned as a “player’s player.”

“I was on the other side. And I voted for him at some point,” said Black, a for­mer Pa- dres man­ager. “His ‘beat­ing the other team fac­tor’ will re­ally get you if you’re on the other side. His raw sta­tis­tics, no. You take ev­ery at-bat and the Stat­cast and the exit ve­loc­i­ties and all that, maybe he doesn’t show up. But in the game you need to win, he shows up in that cat­e­gory. He al­ways shows up.”

In the five years since Blackmon came up from the farm and Lemahieu showed up by trade, the Rock­ies’ odd cou­ple tan­dem has so­lid­i­fied the core of the ros­ter, along with Are­nado, the kind of young play­ers to build around. The Rock­ies can re­tain Blackmon and Lemahieu in ar­bi­tra­tion only through next sea­son, then both will be­come a free agent. If Fowler’s exit is an in­di­ca­tion, time might be run­ning out on Blackmon and Lemahieu play­ing to­gether.

“They fit re­ally well to­gether. They take care of busi­ness as well as any­body,” vet­eran right fielder Car­los Gon­za­lez said. “Over the years, they ma­tured a lot. Now they’re all-stars. Two-time all-stars. They are be­com­ing spe­cial play­ers, not just in this or­ga­ni­za­tion, but in all of base­ball.”

As­so­ci­ated Press file

The Rock­ies’ Char­lie Blackmon, right, and DJ Lemahieu have had a lot to cel­e­brate this sea­son, in­clud­ing a trip to the All-star Game.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Rock­ies cen­ter fielder Char­lie Blackmon will make his first ca­reer All-star Game start Tues­day night.

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