Hatch knows his role with Isotopes, but may be redefining it

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Isotopes infielder L.J. Hatch hits a single Friday night against Salt Lake at Isotopes Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal.)

On the one hand, L.J. Hatch is where he is because he knows his role.

He’s a defensive specialist the Colorado Rockies have trusted since signing him in 2017 to seamlessly fill holes in a variety of positions for teams up and down the organization’s minor league roster.

In fact, the former New Mexico State Aggie has played in seven cities in four professional seasons and only once was his stay more than 17 games at a time.

“It’s definitely hard, but I like the job that I do with the Rockies,” said Hatch, who played second base in the Isotopes’ 10-4 win over visiting Salt Lake on Friday night at Isotopes Park.

“I’m a guy that they trust to send anywhere that they need because I can handle myself with the glove at any of the positions.”

But since his July 10 call-up from High-A Spokane, the 27-year-old who knows his defensive role has been throwing a wrench into the works by giving the Rockies something else to think about with his bat.

Hatch, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI in Friday’s game, has gone 12-of-27 (.444 average) in 10 games with the Isotopes, mostly hitting out of the nine hole in the lineup for the Isotopes (32-41) — a team that has gone 17-8 in July after going 15-33 over the team’s first 48 games before July.

“I can handle the bat, too,” Hatch said. “That’s starting to come out here a little bit. It’s nice to be able to just show it here at the Triple-A level.”

Hatch, who never had a four-hit game in two seasons playing at NMSU for head coach Brian Green, went 4-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored July 24 in the Isotopes’ win in El Paso, where several college teammates and connections from nearby Las Cruces were on hand throughout the series to watch him play.

That was Hatch’s third multi-hit game with the Isotopes, which begs the question: What manager in his right mind would be putting such a hot-hitting player in the nine-hole?

“You crush me all you want, kid. All you want!” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said when a reporter jokingly posed that question after Hatch’s two-hit showing in Thursday night’s win over the Bees that had him hitting .478 at the time. “Hatch hitting in the nine hole tonight got us a 13-11 win! …

“He’s getting on base for top of the order. He knows his role. There’s something about guys that know their role that helps teams win.”

And maybe, just maybe, that role for Hatch, a career .233 hitter in the minors, has blossomed in recent weeks from just a defensive specialist — make no mistake, he’s still filling that role, too — to a more well-rounded player who might be working his way into a much larger role with the organization.

“Here’s the thing,” Schaeffer said. “Since he came here, all he’s doing is hitting and playing solid defense. I mean, he’s gonna play. That’s just all there is to it.”

For Hatch, the hope is he can stick around in Albuquerque longer than his customary few weeks before another team in the organization needs him to go plug the gaps there, which seems to be the blessing and the curse of his being such a trusted, versatile and dependable defensive player in his time with the organization.

“I would love to be here for the rest of the year, but a lot of that’s not in my control,” Hatch said.

“I just tried to do my job every day, whatever that is, wherever it is. Hopefully, I keep taking advantage of this opportunity and it leads to more time here (in Albuquerque) and hopefully up there (in Denver with the Colorado Rockies).”

SPEAKING OF THE AGGIES: Hatch’s 2016 teammate at NMSU, Daniel Johnson, became the first former Aggie to homer in a Major League game on July 18 when he did so for the Cleveland Indians. He added another on July 23.

Hatch found it hard to believe Johnson was the first former Aggie to have homered in the big leagues, but not that Johnson has found his role at that level.

“The one thing that DJ did a really good job of is set an example for the younger guys below him,” Hatch said. “He was always talented, but he wasn’t the guy there in New Mexico State for a little bit. Then he just completely changed himself and made himself into what we see today. All started right before that junior season that he had with us.

“The way he went about his business, the way he took care of the things you needed to take care of every day, it definitely stood out to everybody. It was no surprise to any of us that he was going to be very successful in this game.”

‘TOPES SATURDAY: Vs. Salt Lake

6:35 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM, abqisotopes.com

PROMOTION: Green Chile Cheeseburgers Night, postgame fireworks

PROBABLES: Bees LHP Brian Johnson (2-2, 5.54) vs. Isotopes RHP Dereck Rodriguez (2-2, 9.44)

FRIDAY: Seven Isotopes recorded a hit Friday in Albuquerque’s 10-4 win over Salt Lake, with Alan Trejo leading the way with three doubles and a triple. … Taylor Motter’s red-hot streak continued, blasting his Triple-A leading 24th home run of the season and 13th in as many games. … Greg Bird also connected on a home run, his 14th of the campaign, finishing the contest 3-for-5. Box score: ABQ 10, Salt Lake 4

Isotopes starter Brandon Gold (3-6, 6.07) earned the win, allowing three runs over five innings. The right-hander struck out six and walked two. Gold’s outing was his eighth consecutive start allowing four runs or fewer … Julian Fernández once again hit 102 miles per hour multiple times during his scoreless frame. He struck out two.

TIDBIT: Wynton Bernard’s 15 stolen bases are tied for the most in all of Triple-A without getting caught.

Triple-A West standings

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