Arenado putting on a show as Rockies remain in contention
DENVER — Nolan Arenado spends a fair amount of time watching film. Mostly Quentin Tarantino-directed movies these days, but over lunch Arenado is carving out moments to study the tendencies of a starting pitcher.
Never really huge into that in the past, the Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman made the adjustment to take his game to another level.
He’s certainly putting on quite a show: An MVP-caliber season, with Arenado among the National League leaders in homers (25) and RBIs (73). He’s also hitting .306 and playing stellar defense at the hot corner that could lead to a sixth straight Gold Glove.
On top of all that, the Rockies (54-47) are in contention again. After years of missing the postseason, the team made it to the playoffs in 2017 as an NL wild card. One game — a loss in Arizona.
Still, it changed everything for Arenado.
“I had that little taste of October,” the 27-year-old said. “It tasted way better than I thought. It was the best time of my life. I want that again and again.”
In late May, the Rockies started a 4-13 skid that saw them tumble from first in the NL West to fourth. It ate him up .
“I hate losing. I hate the way we were losing,” said Arenado, a second-round pick in 2009. “People are saying, ‘It’s early. It’s early.’ I hate that. Every game counts. I get it, first half. There are not a lot of must-wins in the first half. But you don’t want to put yourself in a hole.”
Steadily, the Rockies dug themselves out — winning 13 of their last 17 to close the gap on Arizona and Los Angeles. Now that’s more along the lines of what Arenado signed up for as the team tries to make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history.
His $29.5 million, two-year deal is up after this season. He’s eligible for arbitration this winter before hitting free agency after the 2019 season.
That is, if a long-term deal isn’t reached. His worth could be directly impacted through deals reached for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two of the headliners in the free-agency class this offseason.
Arenado’s desire is no secret — play for an organization that contends year in and out. The Rockies have never won the NL West.
“I didn’t say I never wanted to be here. That’s never came out of my mouth once,” Arenado said. “People like to make a story. I don’t like losing. I don’t like to lose. I want to win. That is the truth. If there’s any story, that’s the main story. I want to win. I don’t want to be part of a losing team.”
A lifetime .290 hitter, Arenado has raised his game another notch this season by doing more homework, which includes understanding how pitchers might attack him.
Hence, his film preparation.
In between watching Tarantino movies — Arenado’s latest was “Django Unchained” — he studies up hurlers to analyze their stuff. About 10 to 15 minutes between bites of lunch.
“There are times in years past, I’d strike out on a pitch and be like, ‘I didn’t know he had that,’” said Arenado, whose younger brother, Jonah, is a third baseman in the Giants’ organization and his cousin, Josh Fuentes, an infielder in the Rockies’ system. “Now, I’m not letting that happen anymore. If I strike out, it’s just because he beat me. I don’t want to be lost up there.”
Early on this season, pitchers weren’t giving him much to hit. They were more willing to face Carlos Gonzalez or Trevor Story batting behind him than mess around with Arenado.
With Gonzalez and Story heating up, Arenado is seeing more juicy pitches. He leads the NL with 21 go-ahead RBIs this season and has a major league-leading 114 go-ahead RBIs since 2015.
Arenado prides himself on being a good teammate. Like offering hitting advice and tips to Story, who appeared in his first All-Star Game last week.
“He’s a great example for me and helped me a lot,” Story said.
Still, Arenado isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Like when the team was struggling. That’s just how he’s wired.
“When you’ve lost for so long, it kind of wears you down,” Arenado said. “Once you get that little taste of winning like we did last year, it changed my game in a way, my life in a way as a baseball player. The champagne shower — being with the boys for six months and doing something special like that, it’s something you want to experience again and again.”