Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, a routine-driven hit machine, generating early excitement about .400 chase

Charlie Blackmon has built his brand as a bearded batting champion with a zen approach, one readied by the preparation invested in his craft before and after his mind goes blank for each incoming pitch.

And through the first third of the 2020 season, the routine that drives the hit machine that is Chuck Nazty has been producing at eye-popping levels.

Despite his 15-game hitting streak coming to an end Wednesday, the Rockies outfielder leads the majors with a .472 average, .506 on-base percentage and 1.187 OPS. His raking has led to early excitement that he could somehow become the first player to finish with a .400 average or higher since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, albeit in a 60-game season.

“This doesn’t happen by accident or by just being hot,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Charlie studies, Charlie educates himself on the opposing pitching staff, he makes educated choices on pitches he thinks might be coming in certain counts, or certain parts of the game, or by certain pitchers. All these things add up to giving him the best chance to get a hit.”

There are the intensive film-room sessions, of which Blackmon’s had to adjust this year as MLB disallowed the use of in-game video review due to coronavirus concerns. There are the postgame weight lifting sessions, where Blackmon will routinely emerge in the clubhouse over an hour after the final pitch with his wrists still taped, dripping sweat.

Blackmon, who earlier this week dismissed the notion of hitting .400 this season, isn’t superstitious. He’s just… highly regimented.

“I don’t try to have an unnecessary relationship between something I do out of habit and producing hits on the field. (Doing something) like wearing my socks inside out doesn’t help me gets hits,” Blackmon said. “It’s more of a process as a whole, doing what I need to do every day with (workouts, cage work and video), that’s kind of my superstition.”

The outfielder is correct in that the odds are stacked against him finishing with a .400 average or above, even in a condensed season.

Blackmon is a career .307 hitter and .352 at Coors Field. Though he became the seventh player in MLB history to hit at least .500 through his team’s first 17 games (minimum 50 plate appearances), recent data underscores the long odds of finishing with as much sizzle as he’s started.

Only three players have hit .400 over a 60-game stretch in the past decade (Jose Altuve, Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen), while the last player to hit .400 through the first 60 games of a season was Chipper Jones in 2008. Depending on the amount of off-days he takes, and the number of at-bats per game, Blackmon will need to hit about .365 the rest of the way to finish at .400.

And while ultra-preparedness, an all-star skill set and a willingness to use the whole field will surely factor into whether Blackmon can achieve the feat, so will luck.

“If you look at my streaks in the past, there’s probably a lot of 1-for-4s with a seeing-eye ground ball,” Blackmon said. “You need that kind of luck in order to be consistently successful for an extended period of time.”

Either way, the 34-year-old’s historic offensive start to 2020 has been a welcome catalyst for the first-place Rockies, especially considering Blackmon overcame a bout with COVID-19 prior to summer camp and had very few quality reps in that second spring training ahead of the team’s season opener July 24 in Texas.

Blackmon said at one point, he was concerned about his ability to return to the field in time.

“I wasn’t worried (about my overall health) — I was concerned about my ability to get back on the field and play ball,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t know how long it would take. There was a period of time after my symptoms subsided that I did feel down physically, and I was worried about how much physically I could do without worsening the infection… Ultimately I did the best thing, which was very little physical activity to get over the virus as quickly as possible.”

Blackmon’s tear has left teammate Nolan Arenado in awe. The all-star third baseman called Blackmon “probably the best hitter I’ve ever played with — him and DJ (LeMahieu)”, and added that “the zone that you dream of is the one he’s in right now.”

But Blackmon cautioned against listening too much to the praise being doled his way by teammates and national pundits alike. That’s especially the case as the Rockies’ schedule is set to toughen, including 10 games remaining against the Dodgers, who currently boast the best pitching in the majors (2.34 staff ERA).

“It’s important for me to not just get caught up in what I’m doing,” Blackmon said. “I have to also look around and make sure I’m being a good teammate, make sure I’m locked in on what other people have going on.”

Left-hander Kyle Freeland, off to an impressive start with a 2.45 ERA in four outings, echoed that sentiment as he, too, marveled at how Blackmon “is absolutely going off right now.”

“He’s swinging about as good as he has, ever, and he’s also coming up clutch,” Freeland said. “Hopefully other guys start feeding off that, and guys in the lineup around him start hitting like that, too.”

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