New approach at plate has Nelson raking

New approach at plate has Nelson raking

New approach at plate has Nelson raking
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies third baseman Chris Nelson entered the Coors Field batting cage a few weeks ago for a run-of-the-mill soft-toss session.

It was too run-of-the-mill for hitting coach Carney Lansford, who was flipping balls underhanded for Nelson.

"I asked him, 'What are you trying to do?'" Lansford recalled. "'It looks like you're just trying to get loose, pulling everything, hitting the ball off the top of the cage. I toss you away intentionally to make sure you have that part of the plate covered, but you're pulling the ball.'"

Being asked to think made Nelson, well, think as he hit. An improved thought process has made Nelson one of baseball's hottest hitters. Nelson, the reigning National League Player of the Week, hit .359 with four home runs and 17 RBIs over his last 25 games going into Wednesday night's meeting with the Giants.

"It's been night and day since we had that conversation," Nelson said. "I've been taking more of a focus in the cage and taking that same approach into the game."

On Aug. 13, the night of the conversation, Nelson drove a double and a single into center field at Coors during a 9-6 victory over the Brewers. It took a few more games and some more experimentation for Nelson to find consistent success with the new approach. He brought his feet closer together in the batter's box, which has allowed him to hit with increased authority.

The loud swings have registered with manager Jim Tracy.

"He's always been one of our better two-strike hitters," Tracy said. "The other thing he has added to the equation is he's looking to be more aggressive in the strike zone. When he works himself to the point he's getting in real good hitter's counts, he's not giving the count back to the pitcher. He's going to be aggressive when those type of pitches show up when they've fallen behind and he's done damage with that."

Nelson has offered himself as the answer to a longstanding Rockies issue.

In 20 seasons, they've had just two third basemen establish themselves for a long period of time in purple pinstripes -- Vinny Castilla in the formative years of the franchise and Garrett Atkins in 2005-09. Going into the season, the conventional wisdom was whoever played it this season was merely keeping it warm for prospect Nolan Arenado. But Arenado spent the whole year at Double-A Tulsa while Nelson and Jordan Pacheco put up strong numbers at third. Pacheco, however, is playing first in Todd Helton's absence and could be valuable as a multi-position player. Nelson's hot streak has coincided with regular time at third, rather than shuttling between second and third.

Arenado will be heard from at some point, but Nelson has shown the Rockies he might be ready now to be the everyday guy.

"You want to field the position, and if you have a guy that's going to hit for average and also is going to [hit] the ball into the seats periodically, consistently into the gaps, play the kind of defense he's capable of playing, that's a pretty solid player," Tracy said. "But that can't just be in spurts. It can't show up for three weeks and disappear for 2 1/2 months. That's not championship caliber play, we want, and I certainly want to see, championship caliber play."

Nelson started at third on Opening Day, but saw his numbers dip while trying to play through a wrist injury and nearly found himself a utility player. After recovering from that, and a brief period out of the lineup because of an irregular heartbeat, Nelson is dreaming big.

In the same conversation that led Nelson to hone his practice approach, Nelson said he believes he is capable of a .320 average and 10-15 homers over a full season. Lansford told him 20 homers is possible with the right approach.

"I had a lot of opportunities at the beginning of the season, but I didn't take advantage of them," Nelson said. "Now I'm getting a second opportunity and I'm taking full advantage of it."