Garneau taking advantage of starting chance

Catcher has come up big in close games this week

Garneau taking advantage of starting chance

DENVER -- It has dawned on Rockies catcher Dustin Garneau that he doesn't have to stop being the guy who ushers pitchers through games.

Garneau's fifth-inning leadoff home run off the left-field foul pole, along with some excellent pitching -- which Garneau handled with aplomb -- lifted the Rockies to a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Friday in the Coors Field opener.

Garneau, 29, is become half of a catching tandem with Tony Wolters. But for one at-bat, he could pretend he was a Hall of Famer.

"That was pretty cool. I was Carlton Fisk in my head, keeping it fair," Garneau said. "I'm glad it hit the pole."

A 19th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2009, Garneau's game-calling and throwing impressed the Rockies for years. But not until 2015, when he hit .274 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs at Triple-A Albuquerque, did he break through to the Majors.

Garneau batted .196 in 46 big league games in 2015-16, but a .333 average with three homers and 14 RBIs this Spring Training put him in contention for a season-opening job. Tom Murphy suffered a hairline fracture in his right forearm, which meant Garneau had to be ready. He credited Albuquerque manager Glenallen Hill with helping him find his swing.

"I can swing a little bit harder, drive the ball and not just try to place the ball," Garneau said. "I'm just taking a good swing every time to barrel it."

Garneau, who went 2-for-3 with a walk in the Rockies' 2-1 victory at Milwaukee on Thursday, couldn't afford to neglect his caretaking duties Friday.

Lefty Kyle Freeland, a Denver native, was making his Major League debut, and looked excited. Garneau, having caught Freeland often at Albuquerque last year, knows when that happens, Freeland tends to let his momentum drift to the side and his fastball tends to cut out of the strike zone.

Freeland escapes jam in 1st

Garneau spoke to Freeland during the first, when the left-hander walked two after a single to load the bases. But Freeland forced a Yasmani Grandal inning-ending grounder, and went on to fan six in six innings of one-run ball.

"It was something we all were expecting: hometown kid, Opening Day, debut for him," Garneau said. "If he wasn't amped up, we would have been shocked. I'm just glad he got it all out the first inning and got back to pitching."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.