DENVER — It’s a pretty reliable rule of thumb that blind dates are usually better when you’re not throwing up. Not always, but usually.
Jonathan Lucroy’s courtship with his new boo — the relentless, playoffs-hunting Colorado Rockies — started with a stomach illness. He caught the bug from his old flame, the Texas Rangers, who, he said, had a few guys throwing up when he left. “One last parting gift,” Lucroy told me Thursday.
His uneasy, queasy digestive tract kept Lucroy — pronounced “luke-roy” and bearded like a Colorado mountain man — out of the first two games after he was traded to the Rockies at the deadline. His debut Thursday in a 5-4 win against the Mets was no walk in the park, either, but surely worth the wait: Lucroy gunned out former Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes on a critical stolen base attempt, and gunning out Reyes, who was cut by the Rox after a domestic violence incident with his wife (but is still being paid around $22 million this year by the Rockies), ranks as a subtly fantastic moment in a season with a whole bunch of them. Later, Lucroy scored the winning run.
“You’ve got to find the little things to win sometimes,” said Lucroy, who tapped home plate when Mets reliever Hansel Robles walked Nolan Arenado with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Trading for Lucroy went down on the transaction wire as one of those little things. The two-time All-Star was batting .242 this season in Arlington, well below his eight-season average of .280, and the Rox gave up only a player to be named later in return. But if this all goes as planned, the wheels don’t tumble off, and the Rockies score a Wild Card spot, here’s a hunch acquiring Lucroy will go down as a big thing. The Rockies don’t need Lucroy to be Mike Piazza at the plate. They just need him not to be Wilin Rosario behind it.
That’s where the blind date part comes in. Lucroy is the starting catcher for the youngest pitching rotation in baseball, one whose ages look like this: 25, 24, 22, 27 and 24. Chances are, 28-year-old Chad Bettis returns from cancer rehab to boost the average age, but the bulk of the arms are still equidistant from puberty and retirement. And shortly after the trade, 107 games into the season, Lucroy summed up his familiarity with the Rockies this way: “I didn't know anything about the staff.”
Lucroy's coming in blind. He caught Rockies relievers Jake McGee and Pat Neshek as teammates in the World Baseball Classic. And he once faced Adam Ottavino as a batter. That’s about it.
“My primary job right now is to help out these young pitchers,” Lucroy said while standing at his locker in the winning clubhouse. “I’m here to complement them, not fix anything. I don’t think anything’s broken.”
Even before his Baseball Reference page could be updated on Thursday, Lucroy caught five pitchers on his new staff: 22-year-old German Marquez (“That’s really who won the game for us,” he said), Neshek, Ottavino, Mike Dunn and lights-out closer Greg Holland.
“Holland’s nasty,” Lucroy said.
His homework began before he arrived in Colorado, with that stomach bug, when Lucroy had requested the scouting report for every arm on the roster. And isn’t this a nice change from the norm: Just like Neshek — the All-Star, sidewinding reliever nabbed from the Phillies — Lucroy sounded ecstatic to be joining a Rockies club smack dab in a playoff chase. It’s a new era, indeed.
“A team that’s really trending upward,” Lucroy said.
At first blush, Lucroy and Neshek appear to be smart, patient acquisitions by Jeff Bridich, the general manager, mostly because of what the Rockies had to give up in return: not much. I don’t track all the up-and-comers in Hartford, Lancaster and Asheville as closely as some, but I can tell you Ryan McMahon has turned the PCL into softball batting practice, David Dahl is injured a lot, and Brendan Rodgers was designed as a prototype in a shortstop laboratory somewhere. And the Rox parted with none of their primo prospects, yet still managed to fill holes at the deadline.
The Rockies hope, at least, because that's the thing about blind dates. You never know until they’re over.