Sam Hilliard gets a confidence boost as Rockies beat the Padres

The Denver Gazette
The Denver Gazette
Colorado Rockies' Sam Hilliard strikes out against San Diego Padres starting pitcher Mike Clevinger to end the fifth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) David Zalubowski

DENVER • The last time Sam Hilliard was at Coors Field, he was slumped over in front of his locker, processing the news that he was being sent down to Triple-A.

He knew it was the right call — he was hitting .161 and striking out 30% of the time — but it didn't make the news any easier to hear. But now he's back, recalled on Monday after Kris Bryant went on the paternity list. And in his first major league at-bat in nearly a month, he hit a double to deep center. It was the first hit of the day for the Rockies, who went on to beat the Padres 5-3 on Tuesday night.

"It hurt," said Hilliard, who also made it to third on an error from the centerfielder in the seventh and made a great play in the eighth. "I didn't want to go down. I wanted to figure it out up here. That's not the way it went. They had a different plan for me."

His challenge is now to find a way to stay here, to prove he can consistently hit at the big league level. The paternity list is only three days, so the clock is ticking. But he could have longer than that to prove his case. Elehuris Montero could be sent down instead, as he needs to get daily at-bats to maintain his development.

"I think I have nothing to lose. I know it could only be a couple days," Hilliard said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and try to segment each opportunity I have, try to focus on what I'm doing and now blow it up into the big picture."

In Triple-A, Hilliard got the chance to start every day. Before he left, he was doing a better job with pitch selection, but he was hitting a lot of balls hard on the ground, which doesn't translate to hits. With the Albuquerque staff, he focused on finishing through the zone after contact to help stay in on offside pitches. It translated almost immediately to hits — he had 17 knocks and four home runs during his 16 games with the Isotopes.

"I feel different than I did when I left here," Hilliard said. "I don't think I ever really lost my confidence, but now that I have those reps under my belt and a good feeling in my swing, I feel pretty good out there."

Nice night for Gomber

Austin Gomber pitched six innings, giving up one hit on six runs. He started off slow, giving up a double to Ha-Seong Kim and then hitting Jake Cronenworth before even recording an out. But he got out of the inning, striking out Luke Voit and Jorge Alfaro to end the first.

"Obviously you don't want to start letting the first two get on," Gomber said. "I just tried to buckle down and get the next three."

He didn't feel like he had his best stuff, but he was able to rely on his curveball and changeup as the game went on. Gomber gave up his only run in the second, a RBI double from Kim, and struck out three.

Senzatela nearing return

Antonio Senzatela, on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, made a rehab start on Tuesday with Triple-A Albuquerque. He pitched five innings, throwing 63 pitches and giving up one ER on four hits. The Rockies anticipate this will be the only outing he'll need before he is ready to return. He's eligible to come off the injured list Sunday, just in time to potentially make one more start before the All-Star break.

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