DENVER – This is exactly how the Cubs pictured Dexter Fowler as they designed their blueprints this offseason, creating a sense of momentum from the leadoff spot and flying around the bases.
Fowler became the catalyst during Saturday’s 9-5 win over the Colorado Rockies in front of 43,812 at Coors Field, jumpstarting an offense that had scored three runs combined during the season’s first three games.
It left Fowler feeling a little winded: “I had forgotten about running here.”
Fowler lined Kyle Kendrick’s first pitch of the game into the gap in left-center field, sprinting to third base and scoring on Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly. Fowler tripled again in the second inning, driving a ball into the right-field corner and scoring two more runs. Fowler also walked twice, showing the on-base skills the Cubs have been missing.
“This guy is probably on the verge of becoming really, really good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s at that age (29) where things start making sense all the way around. He’s a young veteran. He’s had enough experience. I’m really eager to watch this all unfold.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Remember all the sleight of-hand tricks with small sample sizes and all the anxiety about this lineup’s failure to deliver in the clutch?
The Cubs (2-2) changed the subject, at least for one night, notching their first home runs this season in the third inning, when Chris Coghlan and Mike Olt blasted back-to-back shots. Starlin Castro added another homer off Kendrick in the fifth inning.
“People are going to talk,” Fowler said. “People are going to say what they need to say. At the end of the day, we play 162 games and some stuff’s going to fall our way. We hit the ball hard, some right at people in those situations. We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We just got to go out and keep swinging it.”
The Rockies drafted Fowler out of Milton High School in Georgia in 2004, convincing the 14th-round pick to give up other options that included the chance to play basketball at Harvard University. After getting traded to the Houston Astros, and then to the Cubs this winter, Fowler is now in his walk year, setting himself up for a nice contract (probably somewhere else) if he produces.
Fowler checked a lot of boxes as a switch-hitter who can get on base and play center field. He could be the right guy at the right time for this group as a prime-age player with something to prove.
“That’s when they really have the chance to truly come into their own,” Maddon said. “The game slows down, they understand it better. I think at that point, they’re truly just about winning.
“This guy truly is dedicated to the game right now and I can see where he’s wanting to get to that next level. He’s a bright fellow, so I enjoy the conversation anyway. But you can just see his wheels spinning to become better at what he’s doing. He’s been very impressive.”
Jason Hammel – who won 27 games for the Rockies between 2009 and 2011 – again showed he knows how to survive in the mile-high altitude. Hammel lasted six innings and gave up three runs, chipping in with two hits of his own and capitalizing on this sudden burst of offensive support.
“We just got to be more patient,” Fowler said. “I think everybody’s a little amped up opening week or whatever. Everybody’s trying to get that big hit. (But) we relaxed tonight, so hopefully we just keep it going.”