Rockies’ Kris Bryant on track to return next weekend at Minnesota

The Rockies’ faltering offense could soon get a boost with the return of Kris Bryant to the lineup.

Manager Bud Black said Friday that Bryant, whom Black called “our best offensive player,” could return from the injured list in time for next weekend’s series against the Twins at Minnesota.

“Our hope is that we see Kris in Minnesota,” Black said before the Rockies opened a three-game series against San Diego at Coors Field. “Over the next five, six, seven days, we’ll see what lies ahead.”

Bryant, 30, participated in a simulated game at Coors on Friday afternoon, testing the strained lower back that has limited him to just 17 games this season.

Left-hander Ty Blach, who’s been on the IL with a sore left wrist, pitched to Bryant. Blach is scheduled to pitch in a rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque on Wednesday.

Bryant signed a seven-year, $182 million contract to join the Rockies as a free agent. But Bryant has just 63 at-bats, is slashing .270/.342/.675, and has yet to hit a home run.

Black said that Bryant is feeling good, adding that the left fielder “looks ready,” after Bryant ran the bases, went through outfield drills, and had been hitting in the batting cage for three days. The next step is for Bryant to play rehab games at Triple-A, although Black didn’t say when Bryant’s rehab start will begin or how long it will last.

Bryant has been been on the injured list twice this season with back issues. He came off the IL briefly but played in only two games before the back soreness flared up again and he was forced back on the IL on May 23.

Bryant was signed to provide power to Colorado’s offense. Without him in the lineup, the Rockies had hit only 64 home runs entering Friday night’s game, ranking 23rd in the majors. Without Bryant in the lineup, Colorado’s record is 16-25.

“Arguably, when he’s Kris Bryant, he’s our best player,” Black said. “He’s our best offensive player so, when he’s in the lineup, it moves everybody down a notch. The whole expression about lengthening the lineup is real when he’s in there.”

Bouchard’s chance. Corner infielder/outfielder Sean Bouchard, 26, will likely make his big-league debut this season. He was called up from Triple-A on Thursday when the Rockies placed Garrett Hampson on the COVID-19 IL.

Bouchard, a ninth-round pick out of UCLA in 2017, has spent five-plus seasons in the minors, posting a career slash line of .279/.352/.490. He’s been hitting the ball extremely well for the Isotopes: .338/.430/.683 with 11 homers in 37 games.

He hit .412 in June (21-for-51) and has hit safely in 11 of 13 with five multi-hit outings and two multi-home run games, including one on Wednesday.

“I’m definitely glad to be able to do what I’ve been able to do,” Bouchard said Friday, adding that he’s aware that the Pacific Coast League inflates hitters’ statistics.

Black said that Bouchard is considered a solid defender and has gap-to-gap power, much like Rockies outfielder and leadoff hitter Connor Joe.

Hilliard sent down. Struggling outfielder Sam Hilliard, 28, was officially optioned to Triple-A on Friday, though he was informed of the news Thursday night. The Rockies called up infielder Alan Trejo to replace Hilliard on the 26-man roster.

Hilliard, who had lost quality playing time, hit just .161 with two homers, 13 runs, 12 RBIs and two stolen bases over 41 games. He hit an especially rough patch in June when he went 0-for-20 with 10 strikeouts.

Black said that telling Hilliard the news was difficult.

“This was a tough one because he’s such a great guy,” Black said. “He’s a great teammate, he’s well-liked, unselfish. But this happens on a regular basis and I think we are all hardened by it. Sam is too.

“But the players are conditioned to handle this, because it’s their job — to handle it.”

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