Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed on his two-run homer that was part of a five-run first inning on Tuesday night at Coors Field.
Nick Piecoro, azcentral sports
DENVER – For 49 consecutive games, shortstop Nick Ahmed’s name was in the Diamondbacks’ starting lineup. With his team’s versatile roster, manager Torey Lovullo had other options. He just couldn’t bring himself to go to them.
Ahmed’s importance to the Diamondbacks has been evident for years, but mostly it has been tied to his defense. Even last year, as the offensive side of his game gained relevancy, it was a distant second to the value wrought by his glove.
His bat, however, keeps catching up, and it probably never has been as close as it has been the past six weeks, a stretch that continued during a 9-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night at Coors Field.
Ahmed blasted an opposite-field homer in the Diamondbacks’ five-run first. He tripled in the third. He added a run-scoring single in the eighth. Since the start of July, a player whom many scouts believed wouldn’t hit enough to be an everyday option in the majors has rated among the best offensive shortstops in baseball.
“I’ve always known I have it in me,” Ahmed said. “Growing up, I was never really a good hitter. I’ve had to work at it and learn and try to get better each and every day. I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of my ability.”
The Diamondbacks clobbered Rockies’ fill-in starter Jeff Hoffman, scoring seven times via four home runs in the first two innings. Though they got another short outing from a starter – Zac Gallen lasted just four innings – their bullpen again pitched well, with Kevin Ginkel and Yoan Lopez contributing two innings apiece. With the win, the Diamondbacks moved to 61-59, maintaining a 2 1/2-game deficit for a wild-card spot.
Ahmed is better than ever this year in one key area – plate discipline – and he believes it has made a difference in the damage he has been able to inflict. Two years ago, he swung at nearly 37 percent of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. Last year, it was 34 percent. This season, it has dropped to 28 percent.
He traces the improvements to a lengthy video session during the Diamondbacks’ last trip to San Francisco in late June. He tried to figure out which pitches he was hitting hard, which he wasn’t and which he was chasing. He realized the approach he was bringing with him to the plate wasn’t tracking closely enough with his strengths as a hitter.
“I used to kind of move my approach around based on where the pitcher would throw most of his pitches,” he said. “If they were throwing more on the outer half, I’d look on the outer half. If they were throwing more on the inner half, I’d look there. Up, down, same kind of thing.
“But that’s not my strength. My strength is hitting the ball in the middle of the plate, the upper half of the zone. I’m trying to make sure I swing at those pitches aggressively.”
Most pitchers, he said, try to get hitters to expand by throwing offspeed pitches that look like strikes before finishing out of the zone. He believes he has been able to keep himself from chasing by focusing intently on pitches up in the zone.
“The more I can take those pitches by looking for the ball up in the zone,” he said, “the better counts I’m going to get in and the more I’m going to get those hittable pitches to drive.”
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo talks about his team’s 9-3 win over the Rockies on Tuesday in which they scored five runs in the first inning.
Nick Piecoro, azcentral sports
Since that series in San Francisco, Ahmed has put together a .304/.388/.548 line with five doubles, one triple and seven homers. His .936 OPS since the start of July is the third-best among major league shortstops, trailing only the Indians’ Francisco Lindor and the Rockies’ Trevor Story.
Lovullo went nearly two full months without giving Ahmed a day off. He finally snapped his shortstop’s consecutive games streak at 49 by giving him most of Saturday off in Los Angeles. It is hard to blame Lovullo for wanting Ahmed in the lineup. In addition to his still-excellent defense, Ahmed owns a .271/.331/.453 line and has been an above-average baserunner.
“He’s done a fantastic job of not missing pitches this year, limiting the chase and just continues to grow day-by-day as a hitter,” Lovullo said. “He’s never satisfied. …
“He’s had some huge hits. And he’s hitting balls on a line. All the hard work is translating.”
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