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The Rockies’ offense, which had a lot of trouble last season, is facing a big challenge early on against the D-backs

Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Kyle Freeland, left, rubs up a new baseball after giving up a two-run home run to Arizona Diamondbacks’ Lourdes Gurriel Jr., right, during the first inning Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Rockies’ offense, which has been struggling to establish its identity and generate power this season, began its test on Thursday night in the season opener against Arizona right-hander Zac Gallen.

PHOENIX — Bud Black frequently shares common truths about baseball.

The Rockies manager enjoys saying “That’s baseball” when talking about the oddities of the game.

Another favorite saying of his is “Every day is a test.”

For a Rockies’ offense that had difficulty finding its groove and generating power last season, the challenge began on Thursday in the season-opener against Arizona right-hander Zac Gallen, who is one of the best pitchers in the majors. The challenge will continue on Friday against right-hander Merrill Kelly, the strong second pitcher of the D-backs’ lineup.

“This is definitely a good challenge,” Black stated on Thursday afternoon before the Rockies played against the defending National League champions. “These two guys can pitch. Their pitching styles are a bit different, but they have a great handle on their pitches. What stands out to me is their composure and pitching expertise.”

The Rockies need to overcome many difficulties to bounce back from last year’s 103-loss season and make progress. Their .249 batting average and .310 on-base percentage were the lowest in franchise history, while their .405 slugging was the second-worst.

Colorado’s 1,543 strikeouts were the most in franchise history, and their efforts to reduce swing and misses didn’t work out. According to Baseball Savant, the Rockies’ 50.2 swing percentage and 32.1 chase percentage were both the second-highest in the majors after the White Sox.

Black and hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens emphasized maintaining discipline at the plate throughout spring training. Early in camp, Meulens expressed feeling “embarrassed” that the Rockies led the National League in strikeouts in 2023. The lack of home runs made the situation worse. The Rockies hit 163, which tied for the fourth-fewest in the majors.

“When you don’t hit homers, and you compound it by striking out, something’s got to change,” Meulens said.

Black understands that the strikeout rate needs to decrease, and the walk rate — at 7.4%, it ranked 26th last season — needs to increase.

“It has to improve, definitely,” Black said. “We didn’t meet expectations last year. We need to raise the on-base percentage — it’s crucial for teams to score runs. We have to increase our average and walk rate.

“We’ve discussed extensively how to get there. For us, it starts with our chase rate. I’ve mentioned it countless times. Expanding the strike zone has been an important topic in conversations and coaching as far back as last year. So we need to accomplish that.”

Center fielder Brenton Doyle, who earned a Gold Glove as a rookie last year, is a player the Rockies are focusing on as a major project. While he only hit .203 with a .250 on-base percentage last year, he also hit 10 home runs and stole 22 bases. There is potential for him to become a significant offensive player, but he needs to decrease his strikeout rate, which was the highest in the majors at 34.9% (minimum 400 plate appearances).

“The one thing you can’t teach is power,” Meulens said. “He has innate power and he’s a big guy. He’s strong and fast, and, with any luck, you will see more power if he makes more contact.”

Doyle collaborated with Kevin Lachance, a hitting coach from Complete Game, a baseball school in northern Virginia, during the offseason. Lachance recently became a hitting coach for the Dodgers.

“During this offseason, I focused on improving my early connection with the barrel, which is the part of the swing just before the barrel of the bat enters the hitting zone,” Doyle explained. “I aimed to make it more compact and efficient.”

Black is pleased with Doyle's progress, as he achieved a .280/.321/.300 slash line in the Cactus League and struck out 24.7% of the time.

“Offensively, he improved significantly during the winter and spring training,” Black remarked. “Now, we will see if this improvement will continue into the season.”

Black was referring to Doyle, but the Rockies’ entire offense will face numerous challenges early in the 2024 season.

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