PHOENIX -- Outfielder Drew Stubbs can smile again, now that he returned to the Rockies on Thursday, after six weeks at Triple-A Albuquerque. And he can admit that he welcomed the demotion.
Stubbs began the year hitting .118 with 31 strikeouts in 56 at-bats before being sent down on May 20. He didn't remotely resemble the player who had a career year in 2014 (.289 average, .339 on-base percentage, 15 home runs, 43 RBIs) and signed a one-year, $5.83 million contract to avoid arbitration. Stubbs, who had more than five years of service time going into the season, accepted the demotion.
The time away helped. After playing sporadically in the Majors, and not performing well enough to justify the opportunities he received, Stubbs struggled with strikeouts immediately after the demotion. But he built up to .263 with a .376 on-base percentage, two home runs, four doubles and three triples at Albuquerque.
"It was a big snowball for me," said Stubbs, who will be eligible for free agency after the season, provided he stays in the Majors. "I felt like every fastball, regardless of velocity, was on top of me. Things got magnified. You lose confidence. You lose timing at the plate. Things speed up on you. After a while, you really feel like you've got no chance when you go up there.
"That's a bad and lonely place to be. I'm glad I'm able to put that behind me."
Stubbs, 30, faces a challenge. Stubbs is a center fielder, but leadoff man Charlie Blackmon will receive most of the starts there. Stubbs has intriguing power (22 homers for the Reds in 2010) and speed (40 steals in 2011, 30 in 2012, 20 last year). But he struck out 205 times in 2011 and will always swing and miss. Will sporadic playing time lead to timing issues?
Stubbs believes the fundamental base he gained at Albuquerque, working with manager Glenallen Hill and hitting coach Dave Hajek, will sustain him through ebbs and flows of playing time. Manager Walt Weiss said he will not limit the right-handed hitting Stubbs to games against lefty pitchers.
"I can stand here today and say I'm in a much better place than I was when I went down there -- even stuff as simple as just having fun playing the game," Stubbs said. "You can lose sight of that when things go south. I was able to start having fun again, enjoying being out there."
To clear a roster spot for Stubbs, the Rockies optioned switch-hitting utility man Rafael Ynoa (.225, .250 OBP, .520 slugging percentage) to Albuquerque.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.