February 2009

Lineups are in, Baker is out

The Rockies put up a lineup for this afternoon against the Dodgers, and already have a change. Jeff Baker was supposed to be designated hitter, but he was scratched for Matt Murton because of tenderness in his right elbow.

Speaking of injuries, third baseman-outfielder Ian Stewart said he is gradually healing from a left biceps strain he suffered while swinging before Thursday’s game. Stewart said he is hoping to return to the batting cage on Sunday.

So here’s today’s lineup:

Eric Young Jr.            2B

Scott Podsednik        LF

Troy Tulowitzki          SS

Matt Murton              DH

Yorvit Torrealba          C

Daniel Ortmeier        1B

Carlos Gonzalez       CF

Christian Colonel      RF

Jason Marquis          P

Jorge De La Rosa and Josh Fogg also are schedueld to throw two innings apiece.

Condolences to Spilborghs

Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilorghs has left camp because of the death of his mother, Essie Spilborghs, on Friday.

Once he made it to the Majors, Spilborghs moved his mother and father, Rene, from California to Denver. His mother had suffered was battling a lung ailment, and being in Denver allowed her to be treated by highly regarded specialists.

Last Mother’s Day, Spilborghs offered this postcart for his mother on MLB.com .

Hawpe happy for healing time

Brad Hawpe took four stitches in his left pinkie after being spiked during Friday’s game against the Angels.

On Saturday morning, Hawpe showed up at Hi Corbett Field for a follow-up exam and the Rockies said he’ll be back to full baseball activity in 5-7 days. However, he expressed disappointment over not being able to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

“I wanted to represent my country, but this is part of the game,” Hawpe said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It’ll keep me out of the WBC, but I can stay here with the team.

“But there’s still five weeks to go until the regular season starts. That’s a lot of games.”

A full story will be published at www.coloradorockies.com shortly.

Ouch, that smarts

The Rockies are less than one inning into thier game against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, and already there is the kind of news a team doesn’t want to have. Of course, if you’re going to have injury news, it’s best it’s not serious.

That seems to be the case with Brad Hawpe, who left in the first inning of Friday’s game with the Angels with a lacerated little finger on his left hand. His status will be evaluated day-to-day.

Prospect Matt Miller took his place as designated hitter.

Hawpe, who had hit an RBI single and taken second on the before the incident, normally plays right field. But Friday’s game used the DH. Matt Murton started in right.

— Left-hander Greg Smith’s two innings were pretty much the good and the bad. He walked three and gave up two doubles while yielding three runs. In his second and final inning, he gave up a double to Bobby Abreu — his second of the game — but forced three weak fly balls. With the Athletics last season, the walks led to trouble but he changes speeds well enough to get frequent soft flies.

Lineup time … and welcome to the Ranter

Left fielder Seth Smith, who has received so many kudos from the Rockies about his swing that he’s getting a chance to start this year, will hit from the No. 2 spot in Wednesday afternoon’s Spring Training opener against the D-Backs. Also, with first baseman Todd Helton not yet ready for regular action (he was spotted heading for a workout and hitting session), Brad Hawpe takes the No. 3 spot in the order. Garrett Atkins will bat cleanup and Troy Tulowitzki, whi hit second and seventh last season, is batting fifth.

Here’s the lineup in its entirety:

Ryan Spilborghs   CF

Seth Smith           LF

Brad Hawpe         RF

Garrett Atkins      3B

Troy Tulowitzki     SS

Chris Iannetta        C

Joe Koshansky    1B

Clint Barmes        2B

Aaron Cook           P


I pulled up to Hi Corbett Field this morning and saw, in all its glory and splendor, The Rockpile Ranter’s Mobile Blog Unit. Welcome to Tucson. I’d have taken a picture, but I was afraid that a security force would have apprehended me. But now that my intentions are known, a snapshot shouldn’t be a problem. Should it?

— Here’s a little more: today’s pitching schedule.

Cook (two innings)

Ubaldo Jimenez (2)

Manuel Corpas (1)

Alan Embree (1)

Juan Morillo (1)

Jason Grilli (1)

Ryan Mattheus (1)

Here is pitching schedule for tomorrow against the White Sox.

Jason Hirsh (two innings)

Franklin Morales (2)

Taylor Buchholz (1)

Huston Street (1)

Cedrick Bowers (1)

Shane Lindsay (1)

Ryan Speier (1)

Pitchng schedules are always subject to change, of course.

Intrasquad Tuesday

Here are the lineups for Tuesday’s intrasquad game at Hi Corbett Field:

Team 1

Dexter Fowler, CF

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Joe Koshansky, 1B

Matt Miller, LF

Daniel Ortmeier, RF

Christian Colonel, 3B

Chris Nelson, 2B

Sal Fasano, C

Team 2

Eric Young Jr., 2B

Chris Frey, CF

Ian Stewart, 3B

Matt Murton, RF

Seth smith, LF

Edwin Bellorin, 1B

Paul Phillips, C

Jonathan Herrera, SS

Listed on the lineup card are two extra catchers, Wilin Rosario and Michael McKenry.

Manager Clint Hurdle kept most of the team’s starters and frequently used reserves out of the lineup. But Stewart and Smith each have crowds at their position, so the at-bats are important.

Non-roster veteran right-hander Josh Fogg, hoping to make the club for Opening Day, is pitching. Otherwise, the club will use its prospects in the game. Right-handed starters Esmil Rogers, Jhoulys Chacin, Brandon Hynick and Samuel Deduno are scheduled for two innings apiece. Righty relievers Matt Daley and Steven Register will throw an inning apiece.

— Left-hander Randy Flores, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is not on this week’s pitching schedule. He came to camp on a modified throwing program.

— Left-handed reliever Alan Embree has returned to camp after missing a day for personal reasons.

Luis A. Gonzalez arrives, Belisle awaits his chance

Luis A. Gonzalez arrived at camp Monday.jpg— All the Rockies have arrived. Infielder Luis A. Gonzalez, who has been delayed in Venezuela with a family matter, arrived Monday morning and took a physical. Gonzalez played for the Rockies 2004-06, part of the time as a starting second baseman, before the club traded his rights to the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Gonzalez missed most of last season after being suspended for amphetamine use.

He was signed to provide depth.

“I’d say specifically we’re looking at bringing Luis back and letting him get his feet back on the ground in the organization over here in the States,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was actually very vesatile for us, played a number of positions. He’s kind of a super-utility guy. He wouldn’t be ahead of anybody that we’ve got at second base right now.

“He’ll be on the back end of second base, moving around at third and he can play first, we’ve seen that. We’ve seen him play both corner outfield positions.”

— Non-roster right-hander Matt Belisle, who has appeared for the Reds each of the last five seasons, was not on the pitching schedule for the week. He siad he is dealing with some tightness in his forearm, but he doesn’t believe it is serious. Belisle said he hasn’t been told if he’ll be looked at as a starter or a reliver. Either way, “I’m here to go to Denver,” he said.

Opportunity awaits Gonzalez

Rockies outfielders Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez sit atop prop prospect lists. This year, Fowler generally occupies a higher rung than Gonzalez, partly because Gonzales had a much more meaningful run in the Majors last season. The Athletics used Gonzalez regularly for part of last season. Fowler received merely a few September at-bats.

But when it comes to making the Rockies’ roster out of Spring Training, experience is a benefit, not a curse.

Fowler is widely assumed to be headed to Triple-A Colorado Springs to begin the season. Gonzalez has an option left, and the Rockies have already declared their three outfielders atop the depth chart — Seth Smith in left, Ryan Spilborghs in center and Brad Hawpe in right. But manager Clint Hurdle is entering the season wanting to give Gonzalez every opportunity to impress him this spring.

“There won’t be a nurturing, coddling, holding his hand through it, like a Rule 5 guy you might go get and try and protect through the season,” Hurdle said. “He’s got some experience. He needs to play. There’s got to be reps. There’s got to be at-bats available.

“There’s that fine line, whether it’s 400 Minor League at-bats versus 300 [in the Majors]. I don’t know. If the numbers are workable, he can add a significant value to our club, whether it be playing a couple of outfield positions as a left-handed bat with some speed.”

Translated, the Rockies feel they’ll be at their best if Gonzalez is pushing Smith and Spilborghs for their starting jobs.

Right-handed hitting Matt Murton and left-handed hitters Daniel Ortmeier and Scott Podsednik are in the mix for backup outfield jobs, as well. Third baseman Ian Stewart will get a look in left field, utility man Jeff Baker has some experience in the outfield, and second baseman Clint Barmes is capable of going to the outfield. Hurdle sees him as only an emergency outfielder, but he said some in the organization believe Barmes could handle extended duty out there.

— As part of the execution emphasis, the Rockies are rating every hitting drill and posting the scores. There are 10 rounds based on hitting tasks — various bunts, driving in a runner from third, hit-and-run. Each exercise is given assigned a maximum point total. A score of 38 through nine rounds is considered perfect, then three is a bonus base-hit round. Sunday, for example, Gonzalez, shotstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Edwin Bellorin had the highest individual scores. Also, the team is divided into three groups, and the total number of points for each group is kept. Players are crowding in front of the whiteboard in the clubhosue to see their scores.

— The Rockies are planning an intrasquad game on Tuesday morning. They open their Cactus League schedule Wednesday at Hi Corbett Field against the D-backs.

— The early part of Sunday’s workout was devoted to a spirited “ragball” tournament. They used a machine to shoot beanbag-like balls at a pitcher completing a windup. Right-handed prospect Jhoulys Chacin won his group. Video coordinator Brian Jones won the contest involving staff members.

Manager Clint Hurdle had injury concerns, but signed off on the exercise in the name of team cohesiveness.

“There have been a number of things the guys have had a lot of fun with,” Hurdle said. “That might be at the top of the list right now.

— Left-handed veteran reliever Alan Embree left camp after Saturday’s workout to take care of a personal matter, and will be back in “a couple of days,” Hurdle said Sunday.

The art of the bunt, from unlikely artists

Todd Helton — Three career sacrifice bunts.

Brad Hawpe — Two.

Garrett Atkins — Zero.

Seth Smith — Eight in the Minors.

Yet at the end of Saturday’s rather lengthy workout (I didn’t time it, but it seemed long), all of the Rockies were taking turns bunting. And manager Clint Hurdle watched everyone intently. Multiple coaches offered tips to players.

The emphasis would seem odd. The Rockies play at Coors Field, where giving up outs seems a worse idea than other places because the park gives up so many runs. The Rockies have tried that strategy, with mixed results. They had 97 sac bunts in 2004 and 88 in 2005, yet won 73 and 67 games. They had 88 in their World Series year of 2007. The difference was in ’04 and ’05, the club had multiple position players with more bunts than any pitcher. In ’07, pitchers Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis were the far-and-away leaders.

So does this mean they’re headed back to the era of the Blake Street Bunters?

Not necessarily.

That’s not to say some folks who haven’t squared much will be doing so. After all, some of the ideas Hurdle has kicked around for a lineup involve Smith or Helton batting second in the order. That spot can come up at times the team is playing for one run. Also, last season the Rockies had such difficulty with runners in scoring position and in situations when they could have used a productive out that maybe the sac bunt could be a positive.

But the larger issue here is someone, or a few someones, must be able to execute the play. Therefore, it must be important to everyone, so all must work on it.

Before Spring Training, Atkins mentioned that the difference between an execution-oriented Minor League camp and most Major League camps, which often emphasize individualized work, is there are more skills that an entire team practices at once. This was one of those times for the Rockies, who did little tasks so well in ’07 and were awful at them in ’08.

Smith, for instance, looked out of place early in the drill but finished up with much cleaner fundamentals. Hurdle called him the “comeback bunter of the day” and lauded him for being mad enough at himself to immediately seek improvement.

Essentially, the philosophy is every weakness is important enough to improve. If a player sees his teammate addressing a shortcoming, how can he not address his own?

“I’m finding out who’s in a good place already and who can we isolate, that we’ve got some catch-up work to do with,” Hurdle said. “It’s something we’ve talked about. All of them need to be able to do it. Now, whether they’ll be asked or how many times, i don’t know that. But the focus is going to be on it.

“With that group setting, it’s helped us maintain. Everybody’s watching everybody else. I had a couple of guys help me out, saying, ‘Hey, so-and-so needs some work,’ because they’re working with them throughout the day.”

Helton dropped attempted more sac bunts during one turn in the batter’s box Saturday than he’s dropped in the Majors and Minors combined (seven), and he took more than one turn. Helton didn’t find it a waste of time at all.

“Every team bunts in Spring Training and goes over every fundamental — you never know when you’re going to be called to do it,” said Helton, who added that executing the bunt is a prerequisite for anyone who picks up a bat and calls himself a professional.

— Luis A. Gonzalez, a one-time starting second baseman who is returning to the Rockies as a non-roster player, has not arrived from Venezuela. Hurdle said he is taking cae of a family matter that arose, and the club is allowing him the time he needs.

Sunny day, cloudy outlook for Francis

Thursday is the sunniest day since the Rockies have been in Tucson. Even Jeff Francis was in a happier mood than one would expect.

Of course, his news wasn’t happy at all. He announced that he’ll have surgery on Wednesday to correct the shoulder issues that ruined his 2008 season. Before making that announcement, which means he expects to miss the entire season, Francis was in a corner of the clubhouse laughing and joking with several of the veterans in camp, such as Sal Fasano and Jason Grilli.

“Since the decision has been made, I’ve had peace of mind at least, knowing that,” Francis said.

Rockies reliever Randy Flores had a similar problem last year when he was with the Cardinals. Flores underwent surgery in September, and is doing well — albeit on a modified throwing program this spring. Francis said Flores’ happiness with the surgery and the progress since helped him with his decision.

— Former Rockies star and current front office member Vinny Castilla is managing the Mexican team in the World Baseball Classic. But the two Rockies he invited, left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa and infielder Omar Quintanilla — have declined. De La Rosa is a definite rotation member because of Francis’ injury. Quintanilla is in line for a backup infield position, but he has decided to stay in camp to make sure he is seen by manager Clint Hurdle and the coaching staff. It makes sense. Third base coach and infield instructor Rich Dauer, hitting coach Don Baylor and bench coach Jim Tracy, all of whom he’ll have to impress to determine his role, are new to the staff.

— Speaking of the WBC, the Rockies are hoping that Chinese Taipei does not take righty Chin-Lung Lo, who had bone spurs removed from his right elbow after pitching last season at Double-A Tulsa. Lo signed with much fanfare as a 16-year-old in 2001, but his progress has been slow. He could have left the organization this winter, but the Rockies re-signed him as soon as he was eligible for free agency.

“He’s coming along slowly, but he’s matured and he knows how to pitch,” Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson said. “Physically, we look for a big year from him. He’s been here forever, it seems, but we’re not going to give up on him.”

— During the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Rockies personnel studied video of left-handed hitting outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez, a player the club obtained from the Athletics in the Matt Holliday trade. General manager Dan O’Dowd gave a detailed report on Gonzalez’s strengths and weaknesses.

Now Gonzalez, who arrived at camp Thursday, is looking forward to learning what the Rockies know. He was in Denver in late January, but he worked out one day, attended the club’s meet-and-greet with a limited number of season-ticket holders one day, and took a physical. So he hasn’t had a chance to get specifics from the staff on what he needs to improve.

This winter, the Rockies went through great lengths to downplay his acquisition, even though he was considered one of baseball’s top outfield prospects the last few years with the D-Backs, who traded him to the Athletics before last season, and with the Athletics. But whether it was intentional or not, the Rockies issued him No. 5. That was the number Holliday wore while making three All-Star Game trips in purple pinstripes.

“No, I didn’t ask for it,” Gonzalez said. “They just put that number on me. I don’t really care.”

During the winter, Gonzalez smiled and said maybe he could be the next Matt Holliday.

— Catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who did not report with pitchers and catchers because he was mourning the death of a family member, arrived Thursday. The only one who didn’t arrive was infielder Luis A. Gonzalez, who was having visa issues from Venezuela.