Lucroy tasked with elevating Rockies’ young pitching staff
A stomach bug stalked Jonathan Lucroy over his final days in Texas last week — “One last parting gift,” he said — before his trade from the Rangers to the Rockies. It was a delayed attack. Colorado’s new starting catcher finally felt the backlash only when he stepped into the batting cage on his first day at Coors Field.
“I brought the Black Plague with me,” Lucroy said. “I was struggling. It hit me in batting practice. I was ready to rock and then I got cold sweats and it really hit me.”
Sickness aside, Lucroy’s effect in an escalating playoff chase was already well underway. In the hours after Colorado acquired the veteran last Sunday, Lucroy set in motion an immediate revamping of how the Rockies will ap-
proach the final two months in their bid to make the playoffs.
Colorado manager Bud Black called Lucroy from the noisy tarmac at Dulles International Airport late Sunday night after the Rockies split a doubleheader with the Nationals. Their conversation was straightforward.
Lucroy, a 31-year-old, eight-year veteran and a three-time all-star, was tasked with elevating a young pitching staff, a rookie-heavy rotation with 75 percent of its victories this season coming from four starters with an average age of 23.
“I could tell right away by the tone of his voice that he was really excited,” Black said. “This is a good fit for him. We like our arms, for sure. We felt like we got a veteran catcher who is battle-tested in pennant races. Going with young starters like we are, there’s a comfort in him for all of us, most importantly to the pitchers.”
Lucroy’s addition is blanketed by reputation. His name carries weight in Colorado’s clubhouse, an earned level of esteem from both well-traveled veterans, such as first baseman Mark Reynolds, and rookies, including 22-yearold Venezuelan pitcher German Marquez.
When the Rockies’ rotation finally settles in September, it will probably include Marquez and as many as three other rookies: Antonio Senzatela, 22; Kyle Freeland, 24; and Jeff Hoffman, 24. Entering the weekend, they had combined for 36 of the 48 wins from starters this season.
“This game is too hard to think about tomorrow or a week from now,” Lucroy said. “You have to dumb it down. It’s too hard to worry about anything else. It’s something I take very seriously. You have to slow this game down. It’s one thing I really want to impress on these young pitchers. Just worry about execution pitch by pitch.”
He played alongside Reynolds and Rockies left fielder Gerardo Parra in Milwaukee. He shared a clubhouse with outfielder Ian Desmond in Texas. He caught for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on a team with Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and relievers Jake Mcgee and Pat Neshek. He knows bench coach Mike Redmond personally.
“He’s been through it,” Arenado said. “He’s been on teams that just missed the playoffs and teams that made it. He knows what the grind is. These next two months, we’re going into territory we’ve never been. We need a guy like that who knows how to handle that situation, especially with pitchers.”
Arenado said getting Lucroy was a morale boost for a team that has not sniffed the postseason since 2009. During the WBC in March, Arenado regularly shared a 30-minute car ride with Lucroy on the way to games, along with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and Washington’s Daniel Murphy. They would eat breakfast together and talk about matchups and the philosophies of the game.
“I really enjoyed the conversations we had, about how he’s been so good in this game for so long,” Arenado said. “I saw him up close. I liked the way he went about his routine, how he does his homework. He’s a guy who is very locked in and wanting to be good. He never goes into games without making sure he has everything covered. I have a lot of respect for that.”
When Lucroy debuted for the Rockies on Thursday, he made an early impression. Marquez left a fastball up in the strike zone that Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes hammered for a home run early in the game. Lucroy corrected Marquez quickly, calling him through eight more outs as Colorado held its lead. The catcher started his pitching assistance with a visual.
“He has a small target. I like it,” Marquez said. “That helps. It keeps you in line. And when something was going wrong, he knew why. And he knew how to correct it.”
Lucroy’s contract extends only through this season, so his time in Colorado may be brief. He has struggled at the plate since being traded from Milwaukee to Texas in July 2016. But maybe the Rockies found exactly what they needed, now and for the future, the kind of experienced starting catcher with the chops for a pennant chase the Rockies have not seen since Yorvit Torrealba helped boost them to the World Series in 2007, then again to the playoffs in 2009.
“There are a lot of different styles of leadership,” Black said. “That position is an important one, to have the overall confidence of the team. It’s very important. You have eight guys looking in at the catcher for every pitch.”
Nick Groke: firstname.lastname@example.org or @nickgroke
Jonathan Lucroy is settling in behind the plate for the Rockies after being acquired from the Texas Rangers before the trade deadline.
Rockies manager Bud Black confers with newly acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy during batting practice last week. The veteran has reached the playoffs three times in his career and has often been in a late-season playoff chase.