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Michael Toglia hits way onto Rockies’ 26-man roster

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Toglia was scuffling, and Rockies hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens figured he needed some tough love.

So, during the Rockies’ road trip in Tampa Bay last August, with Toglia carrying a .162 average and striking out a ton, Muelens sat him down and gave him an earful.

“The conversation in Tampa was long, and it was a smack in the face,” Meulens said Tuesday as the Rockies closed out spring training. “I said, ‘We have to change something because we can’t keep going this way.’ And he did. He listened, and we started doing different drills to turn things around.”

That conversation was the genesis of what the Rockies hope will be a turnaround for Toglia, the Rockies first baseman/outfielder who was a first-round pick out of UCLA in 2019 but who’s struggled to produce in limited action during his first two seasons in the majors.

Manager Bud Black phoned Toglia on Monday night to tell him he had won a spot on the 26-man roster and would be with the club for Thursday night’s season-opening game against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Toglia was out to dinner with his family when the call came.

“When I got the call, I knew something was going on,” Toglia said. “It was literally like draft day all over again. So I put (Black) on speaker phone and my whole family started cheering. It was pretty spectacular.”

Toglia’s mom, dad and grandparents all shed a few tears.

Black also said that veteran Alan Trejo made the opening-day roster as a utility infielder. Trejo will have to be added to the 40-man roster, but the club has not yet announced a corresponding move.

When the Rockies opened camp in mid-February, the expectation was that Sean Bouchard, who has a knack for getting on base and had displayed more consistent at-bats, would likely beat out Toglia, and Elehuris Montero, who also plays first base, would make the team, primarily as a designated hitter. That scenario would have left Toglia out of the mix.

Bouchard, however, had a quiet camp, hitting just .205 with one homer and four RBIs. After being optioned on Tuesday, he’ll begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Toglia, a switch hitter, hit .286 with a .980 OPS, 13 RBIs and a team-high five home runs. He struck out 19 times and drew six walks. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him, but he earned his spot.

“I believed it would happen — I had to,” Toglia said.

Toglia played winter ball in Mexico for manager Vinny Castilla, the former All-Star player who’s been the Rockies’ longtime special assistant to the general manager. Playing for Castilla helped Toglia rediscover his love of the game.

“Vinny reminded me that it’s still just a game and that (I was) a really good player,” Toglia said. “And when you’re down in Mexico, you don’t have the same scouting reports you do up here, and not as much access to information.

“So you just have to use your eyes and go play and be a good hitter. That was really valuable. I was like, ‘I’m a really good hitter without all of this information.’ I just wanted to apply that to camp.”

But Toglia still has a lot to prove. He enters the regular season with a .187 career average with six homers in 76 games (272 plate appearances). His career strikeout rate is 34.6%, which must come down for Toglia to become a productive major leaguer. He’s worked overtime to adjust his swing to get his hands and body in a better position to fire at pitches. He’s also made a concerted effort to be a more aggressive hitter.

“It’s a process and he’s worked diligently, and he came to camp and we saw some improvements in the things that we talked about,” Black said. “It carried over into spring training and we hope that it carries over into the season.

“And with Sean, it didn’t seem as though his camp went as well as he would have liked. We had a tough decision.”

One risk of the decision is that by sharing time at first base and outfield — Kris Bryant will play both positions and DH, and Charlie Blackmon will play right and DH — Toglia won’t get the playing time he needs to develop. The Rockies staff also debated whether Bouchard would be better suited to a part-time role than Toglia.

But Toglia said he’ll be ready for whatever is asked of him.

“A lot of it is mentality,” he said. “You cannot ride the crutch of, ‘I haven’t seen pitching in three days, how am I supposed to get a pinch-hit at-bat?’ That’s just not an excuse. Pinch-hitting is difficult but you have to treat it like you’ve been playing every day. You have to trick yourself into being in that mindset.”

But Toglia, never one to lack confidence, said the time is coming when he’ll be in that starting lineup on a regular basis.

“I believe I’m an everyday guy and I think I’m going to swing my way into that position,” he said. “Whether it starts out that way or I have to come off the bench, I’m going to have that mentality and I feel like by the end of the year, that’s where I’m going to be.”

Now, as Toglia prepares for Thursday’s opener, he looks back at his meeting with Meulens as a turning point.

“I agreed with him because I wasn’t producing and I knew I was a better player than that,” he said. “They said there was a change that needed to be made and I felt like I made the changes I need to make. I took that into camp.”

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