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Rockies' hot bats among stories to watch

4/30/2014

In case you missed it:

The three leading hitters in the NL batting race all wear the same uniform.

The Rockies' Charlie Blackmon is batting .379, Troy Tulowitzki is at .376, and Justin Morneau is at .357. Oh, yeah, and Nolan Arenado is hitting .313 and D.J. LeMahieu is batting .305. Colorado is taking full advantage of Coors Field, and the team OPS is more than 50 points higher than any other team, and the Rockies are 16-12 after coming back to beat the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

The Rockies are tied with the Brewers for the best run differential in the National League, at plus-25.

But there is this lingering concern from Tuesday night: Tyler Chatwood left with elbow tightness. Remember, Colorado has reinforcements on the way: Eddie Butler is off to a good start in Double-A, and Jonathan Gray has your basic 25-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the same team.

Francisco Rodriguez is almost perfect so far this year.

K-Rod -- who didn't sign with Milwaukee until Feb. 7 -- tied a record for saves in the month of April on Tuesday by racking up his 13th. He hasn't allowed a run, and has issued just four walks in 16 innings, with 23 strikeouts. Opponents have an OPS against him of .339.

The guy who used to be all about the slider is now all about changeups: He throws it almost a third of the time, according to FanGraphs, and the contact rate on his pitches outside the strike zone has plummeted from 61 percent last season to just 36.7 percent this year. Which translates into a lot of strikeouts.

Billy Hamilton's offense has gotten better through the month of April.

He went 3-for-4 Tuesday, including his first homer in the big leagues, and now has 16 hits in his past 47 at-bats. He is known as an eternal optimist, which seems to have helped him work through those first days of troubles.

From Mark Sheldon's story:

Through 25 games, Hamilton is batting .244 with 10 steals in 15 tries. His on-base percentage is still low at .281, but he has shown some of the catalyst moments the Reds hoped he would provide this season.

"I come here every day and try to do something good for the team to help them out," Hamilton said. "When I started the season, I didn't have my mind right. But today, I walk on to the field and get something out of the game -- whether it's a sac fly, a stolen base, a big run and not just hitting, I want to learn something new."

Yadier Molina just keeps getting better and better at the plate.

The trendline of his year-to-year OPS is shaped like the side of a mountain:

2006: .595

2007: .708

2008: .741

2009: .749

2010: .671

2011: .814

2012: .874

2013: .836

2014: .917

He has won six straight Gold Gloves, of course, with a couple of championships along the way. You could make a compelling case for Molina for the Hall of Fame even if he never played another game. But he will play a lot more; he's just 31 years old.

• Oakland's pitching staff is completely dominating.

The Athletics' team ERA is 2.85, or almost half a run better than any other AL club. Three of the top seven pitchers in the league in ERA belong to Bob Melvin and Billy Beane -- No. 1 Sonny Gray, No. 4 Scott Kazmir (who beat Texas Tuesday night) and No. 7 Jesse Chavez. And the Athletics have easily the best run differential in the majors, at plus-48.

• The Mets' pitching continues to be really good.

Jon Niese lowered his ERA to 2.20 in shutting down the Phillies Tuesday night, and Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler have all started nicely. New York is 15-11, and appears day by day as if it might be in the wild-card conversation. With Matt Harvey out for the year, it looked like a lost season for the Mets, but they're not losing very often, so far.

• The Astros are losing two-thirds of their games.

A lot of Houston's 9-18 start can be put on the shoulders of what has been an abysmal bullpen, which has accumulated a 6.04 ERA. This is how bad the Astros' relievers have been: Toronto's bullpen ranks 29th in total bases allowed, with 143, and Houston is way beyond that, at 171.

Pressure has increased within the Houston organization to win more often. So far, the Astros are not.

A quality start was wasted Tuesday, as Jesus Ortiz writes.

Jose Fernandez never loses in the presence of the Marlins' sculpture. He is now 12-0 with a 1.00 ERA at home in his career.

Lowest ERA in first 19 career home starts (debut in last 100 years)

Jose Fernandez: 1.00 (2013-14)

Vida Blue: 1.28 (1969-71)

Jaime Garcia: 1.52 (2008-11)

Al Mamaux: 1.57 (1914-15)

Wheezer Dell: 1.58 (1915-16)

Opposing hitters have a slugging percentage of .257 against Fernandez this season. To put that into perspective, it means that all hitters are, generally, like Ruben Tejada.

Also, he is a defensive ninja, as this play shows.

• If the Angels sort out their bullpen, they could be pretty good.

Their .500 record really doesn't reflect how well they've played -- they have the second-best run differential in the majors, at plus-34, built on what has been a good rotation and a powerful offense. But Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri have really struggled -- Frieri already has allowed five homers this season -- and the improvement of the starters has been mitigated. But bullpens can be volatile and if the Angels sort out their bullpen issues, they could be very dangerous.

Starling Marte is off to a horrific start.

Marte played a crucial role for the Pirates as they ascended to the playoffs last season, but so far this year, he has descended, sharply. He has a league-high 37 strikeouts, and an OPS of .612. If Pittsburgh had played Tuesday, he would've batted seventh, as Rob Biertempfel writes.

Around the league

Michael Pineda got hurt during a simulated game in Tampa Tuesday.

Manny Machado is back.

• The Texas pitchers are struggling against the patient Oakland lineup, and the Athletics have taken the first two games of the series in Arlington. Oakland leads the majors in walks.

Chris Owings made a ridiculous play. But Arizona lost again: That's four straight for the Diamondbacks, who are 2-15 at home. The 1932 Yankees have the best home record ever: They went 62-15.

Dustin McGowan's spot is under scrutiny, at a time when Marcus Stroman is dominating in the minors, writes Brendan Kennedy.

Robinson Cano deserved better than boos from Yankees fans, writes Joel Sherman. He was going to be booed by some fans, but the virulence was surprising to me.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Marlins cut Greg Dobbs.

2. Mike Minor will return to the Atlanta rotation Friday.

3. Chris Getz was called up, and Ryan Goins was sent down.

4. The Twins need a pitcher, but Alex Meyer is not a consideration at this point.

Dings and dents

1. Kevin Kouzmanoff will get a second opinion on his back before having surgery.

2. Bruce Chen is hurting.

3. Alex Avila is dealing with a back problem.

4. Matt Cain cut himself.

5. A.J. Griffin is having elbow surgery.

AL East

• The Rays continue to have pitching issues.

• The Red Sox found a needed spark. They have additional punch now, writes Julian Benbow.

AL Central

• The Royals' offense came alive.

• The Tigers have been dealing with a lot of down time.

Jose Abreu was not going to escape Jerry Reinsdorf.

NL East

• Baseball is talking to Bryce Harper, writes Thomas Boswell.

• Bullpen help is on the way for the Phillies.

NL Central

Casey Sadler is aiming to impress the Pirates' bullpen.

Peter Bourjos has been slumping.

Jeff Samardzija is still winless.

NL West

Hanley Ramirez is good to go.

Lastly

• On Tuesday's podcast: Graphic artist Todd Radom offers his favorite throwback jersey that hasn't been used, and explains some of the details of particular uniforms. And Jayson Stark explains how he got actor Jon Hamm to blurb Jayson's new book.

Andrew McCutchen's impersonations, the long version.

• A judge ruled in an ongoing case for Roger Clemens. The two sides are discussing a settlement.

Jeff Conine has been immortalized.

• I loved working at the New York Times, but will never forget those days marred by Jayson Blair's deception.

And today will be better than yesterday.