Lu­croy tasked with el­e­vat­ing Rock­ies’ young pitch­ing staff

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

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: ngroke@den­ver­post.com or @nick­groke

Matthew Stock­man, Getty Im­ages

Jonathan Lu­croy is set­tling in be­hind the plate for the Rock­ies af­ter be­ing ac­quired from the Texas Rangers be­fore the trade dead­line.

David Zalubowski, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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