DENVER — “Are you back?”
That was my question to Nolan Arenado, though, to be fair, it wasn’t really fair.
You see, Arenado had been mired in a slump for the better part of a month, and the question was posed after one [very] good game.
Arenado has maintained that a strained shoulder that had been bothering him since he made a throw to first base on Aug. 10 was not affecting his swing; that it sometimes affected his throwing but that was the extent of it.
Nevertheless, while correlation is not causation, there was quite a correlation with respect to the date of the shoulder injury and the beginning of a 26-game stretch over which he hit .250/.336/.406 with three home runs.
The biggest red flag of all: His hard-hit rate, per Statcast (percentage of batted balls with exit velocity of 95 mph or greater) tanked, from 42.8 percent to 29.9 percent. Arenado wasn’t hitting the ball hard nearly as often, and it was manifesting in the box scores.
Then came Wednesday night.
In his first at-bat against Arizona’s Patrick Corbin, Arenado drove a 1-0 slider to the base of the wall in right field for a double, with an exit velocity of 95.5 mph. It was a hanger, and Corbin doesn’t hang many sliders — he entered his start with the highest swing-and-miss rate on the slider (54.8 percent) of any starting pitcher (min. 100 sliders swung at) this season.
In his next at-bat, Arenado doubled again, but this time on an 0-2 slider that was down closer to where Corbin likely wanted it. Arenado smashed a 103.5-mph double down the left field line.
Next, a home run on a 2-2 slider that was down even further. Arenado golfed it out to dead-center field with an exit velocity of 100.2 mph.
In his final at-bat of the evening, Arenado smashed the first pitch he saw from Brad Ziegler to third base, with an exit velocity of 107.0 mph. Of course, this time, it ended up turning into a 5-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning.
In his previous 26 games, Arenado had 16 batted balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph or greater. He had three on Wednesday alone.
So, back to the unfair question.
“Are you back?”
“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “It was a good day.”
A good day, indeed, for the Rockies — 5-4 walk-off winners over the D-backs on a DJ LeMahieu home run — and for Arenado, in particular, who may have awakened from the doldrums of August.
“I was happy to hit the ball hard, drive the ball. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard, that’s all I’m thinking about.”
Did the swing feel as good as it looked?
“I’m getting there. It’s funny, because my numbers against Corbin aren’t good. He’s always been hard on me (9-for-38, .237, 2 homers entering Wednesday’s game) throughout our careers.”
Arenado was proudest of the 0-2 double on the slider down.
“His slider’s nasty. He’s so good that you almost have to sit on certain pitches. I tried to commit to a plan, and if I get beat a certain way, I’ve just got to live with that.”
Arenado didn’t get beat. Not Wednesday. The question is, is this the Arenado the Rockies will have as they seek the first division title in franchise history, with 17 games to play in the regular season.