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Rockies rookie Sam Hilliard hitting his stride, could help spark offense

David Dahl could rejoin club soon

DENVER, COLORADO – SEPTEMBER 11: Sam Hilliard #43 of the Colorado Rockies rounds the bases to score on a Tony Wolters double in the fifth inning against the St Louis Cardinals at Coors Field on September 11, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO – SEPTEMBER 11: Sam Hilliard #43 of the Colorado Rockies rounds the bases to score on a Tony Wolters double in the fifth inning against the St Louis Cardinals at Coors Field on September 11, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Sam Hilliard is starting to find his groove, which is a very good thing as the Rockies enter the final three weeks of the season with a playoff spot still in view.

The team could certainly use an offensive boost from the rookie outfielder.

The left-handed-hitter entered Saturday night’s game in Los Angeles having slugged five home runs and a triple in his last 11 games. Over his last 13 games, he’s hitting .325 (13-for-40).

Plus, he’s made some history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hilliard is the first visiting player to ever hit five home runs at Dodger Stadium as a rookie. He mashed two at the iconic ballpark in 2019 and had homered in each of his past three games in Los Angeles.

“I definitely believe that it’s a combination of getting more reps and more opportunities, as well as just really trying to relax out there,” he said Friday night after hitting a solo home run in Colorado’s 10-6 loss to the Dodgers. “I kind of remember when things started to turn for me at the plate. It was really just a conscious decision that I made to not put so much pressure on myself and remind myself to have fun.”

Hilliard, batting .250 with a .848 OPS, credits veteran first baseman Daniel Murphy for reminding him to keep things light. Manager Bud Black credits hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Jeff Salazar for working with Hilliard to whittle down his high strikeout rate, though it still sits at 32%.

“Sam continues to shorten his swing,” Black said. “I think the effort level is decreasing a little bit, too. That doesn’t mean that he’s not swinging with authority. But sometimes, with aggressiveness, you can get too big and your effort a little bit of longness in your swing. And that’s where Sam was a little bit earlier this year.”

Dahl’s close. David Dahl, on the injured list since Aug. 18 with lower-back soreness, is on the cusp of returning. He joined the Rockies in L.A. and took batting practice with the team on Saturday.

“I just saw him in the cage and he’s swinging the bat,” Black said. “So we’ll see how it looks, but it’s a good sign that he’s here with us. He’s out of satellite camp, feeling healthy.”

Once Dahl returns, he needs to produce. When he went on the IL, he was in the midst of a career-worst 0-for-17 hitless streak that dropped his average to .189. Dahl’s on-base percentage is just .258.

Footnotes. Right-hander Wade Davis through a bullpen session Saturday, and though Black continues to say that Davis is making progress there is no timetable for Davis’ return. … Utility player Chris Owings has played two games at the alternative site but he’s still experiencing some soreness with his left hamstring and his return is not imminent.

On DeckRockies RHP Ryan Castellani (1-2, 4.81 ERA) at Dodgers LHP Julio Urias (3-0, 3.27)8:10 p.m. Sunday, Dodger StadiumTV: AT&T SportsNetRadio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 AM

Castellani will make the sixth start (seventh appearance) of his rookie season. The 24-year-old has impressed manager Bud Black with his poise and his ability to attack hitters. Black says, however, that the next step for Castellani is pounding the strike zone early and avoiding four-pitch walks and 3-0 counts. The right-hander pitched two scoreless innings of relief on Wednesday in Colorado’s 9-6 victory over San Francisco at Coors Field. He has never faced the Dodgers but is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two road starts. Urías is coming off a strong performance vs. Arizona — allowing one run over six innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. He had been struggling in the first inning, having allowed seven runs in the first inning over his first six outings. But he set down the Diamondbacks in order in the first inning on Tuesday, needing just 12 pitches. In eight games (five starts) vs. the Rockies, he’s 0-1 with a 5.92 ERA and a 1.562 WHIP.

Trending: Although he wasn’t in the starting lineup Saturday night, first baseman Josh Fuentes is riding a six-game hitting streak. He had started five of the Rockies’ past nine games at first base, batting .333 (7-for-21). During his six-game streak, he’s hit .364 (8-for-22).

At issue: Entering this weekend, Colorado had not won a series vs. the Dodgers since 2018 when they took three of four games at Coors Field from Aug. 9-12.

Pitching Probables:Monday: Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (2-1, 4.09) at Padres RHP Dinelson Lamet (2-1, 2.62), 7:10 p.m., ATTRMTuesday: Rockies TBD at Padres RHP Mike Clevinger (1-2, 3.14), 7:10 p.m., ATTRMWednesday: Rockies RHP Antonio Senzatela (3-1, 3.33) at Padres RHP Zach Davies (6-2, 2.23), 6:10 p.m.

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