Doyle enjoys time as hitting coach despite road numbers

Doyle enjoys time as hitting coach despite road numbers

SAN DIEGO -- Rockies hitting coach Blake Doyle spent well more than an hour Wednesday making underhand tosses and exchanged pleasantries with Rafael Ynoa and Cristhian Adames, two recent callups he's getting to know, and he worked in some hit-and-run advice. When veteran Justin Morneau stepped into the cage and blasted liner after liner, Doyle told him, "Your swing is the best it's ever been."

Doyle worked with most of the hitters, sweating and smiling. At 60, Doyle is on a Major League coaching staff for the first time and loving it. The team's record and the stat sheet, which is full of ugly road numbers that must improve if the Rockies hope to contend next season, can't dampen his joy.

"I knew exactly what to expect," Doyle said. "What I did not expect is it going so quickly. I kept waiting for the grind. It never came.

"There's a reason for that -- the relationship I have with the guys, and the guys have with me, and the coaches' clubhouse. It was a lot of fun through a lot of adversity."

The road numbers make it seem as if the Rockies, whose injuries have have been a sad and continuing story, have nothing but adversity.

Going into Friday night's opener of a three-game set at Dodger Stadium to conclude the season, the Rockies have a .227 batting average, which is second-lowest in the National League and one point higher than the club record-low, in 2010. Colorado also ranks last in the NL in road runs with 241 and on-base percentage at .278, the lowest in club history. The 703 strikeouts are tops in team history.

Doyle doesn't hide from those numbers, but many other stats glow for the Rockies despite their 66-93 record (21-57 on the road). The overall batting average going into Thursday was tied with the Tigers for the Major League lead at .277 (Detroit had played one more game). The Rockies were third in the Majors with 741 runs.

"We've got guys that never give up," Doyle said. "We lead all of baseball in hitting when we're behind [at .279, 10 points better that second-best Tigers]. That is indicative of the kind of player that [manager] Walt [Weiss] wants on this team. When you're always fighting, there's no time to relax and there's no time to think about the bad stuff."

It's exactly what Weiss wanted after Dante Bichette resigned after one year to spend more time at home.

A Minor Leaguer in the '70s, Doyle and his brothers -- former Major Leaguers Denny and Brian -- built a business in Orlando tutoring players, from pee-wees to pros. One of those players was a young Weiss, whom Blake Doyle converted from pitcher to shortstop at age 14. Weiss and many other top-level players kept coming to Doyle throughout their pro careers. It was a greater volume of players than a Major League team -- even one like the Rockies, whose cast changed constantly because of injuries.

Weiss' reservation was the workload under Major League pressure, with travel and considered going to a hitting coach and an assistant the way other teams have. But Doyle believes he and Weiss are on the same page, and other voices might create confusion.

Weiss knew Doyle could handle it.

"He didn't have any first-hand experience as a Major League coach, but that never concerned me with him, because he's got all the attributes to be a great Major League coach," Weiss said. "He's a workhorse and he's got a gift in connecting with people and communicating. I knew it wouldn't take long to earn the players' trust."

Rockies history is full of hitters who see the same ball, which was a homer or an extra-base hit at home, land softly in a fielder's glove at the warning track on the road.

But the object is to score runs, even if players much set the batting average aside. The 2007 World Series team hit .261 on the road, but the team that made the postseason in 2009 hit .235. However, the Rockies managed 382 road runs in '07 and 340 in '09. The team must score at home and away without going to separate swings and approaches -- which would be foolish in a game based on routine.

Rockies hitters may need a confidant more than hitters on any other team.

"He keeps notes on each guy, what terminology guys like to use," said Morneau, who entered Thursday leading the NL in hitting at .317, just ahead of the Pirates' Josh Harrison (.316) and Andrew McCutchen (.313). "He's pretty observant as far as knowing what each guy is trying to do and trying to accomplish with their at-bats."

Whatever issue affects the club on the road, players insist Doyle's coaching isn't to blame.

"I don't think he has any control of that whatsoever -- it's our job," said Corey Dickerson, who has talked with Doyle about keeping his weight properly distributed, and used the advice to a .312 average with 76 RBIs. "When I'm batting, I'm not thinking of anything Blake or anyone else has said. I'm just trying to battle that pitcher.

"What we need to be able to do is put together better at-bats back-to-back, and get execution hits."

Doyle's desire to assist players in doing that isn't waning.

"All you need to do is follow me in October, November, December and January," said Doyle, who will return to the baseball school this winter. "This is easy in comparison."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.