Final Opening Day thoughts …
Spring Training was devoted to execution, especially offensively, but the Rockies did not come through on two opportunities to execute two plays. In the second inning, Ian Stewart took a called third strike on a Brandon Webb, full-count pitch that he never thought was a strike, and Brad Hawpe was thrown out at second for a double play. In the sixth, Ryan Spilborghs swung through a Billy Buckner pitch and Chris Iannetta was thrown out at second. Spilborghs would fan to end the inning.
Manager Clint Hurdle, reiterating what he said all spring, vowed that the aggressiveness would not stop.
“We have talked long and hard this spring, and we’ve done a very good job at it,” Hurdle said. “Today we just weren’t able to pull a trigger.
“We’ve done very well at it all spring. I anticipate we will.”
Stewart said, “I thought it was a little in, but 3-2, I should’ve been swinging at that.”
So this is as good a time as any to see if the Rockies are serious about the aggressiveness. Many teams set such goals in Spring Training, but after a couple of runners caught stealing you see guys feel they don’t have a jump and shut down their steal attempts. Or you see weak swings that, at best, foul pitches off. Worse than all that, managers give up and play station-to-station baseball.
But two occasions in the third inning, one that worked for the Rockies and one that didn’t, illustrate why aggressive baserunning is the way to go.
On Brad Hawpe’s three-run double, it looked as if the throw to the plate beat Garrett Atkins. However, D-backs catcher Chris Snyder didn’t get a favorable bounce on the throw and had to field the ball too deep behind the plate. Atkins slid feet-first but darted his left hand to the plate beneath the tag.
In the bottom of the inning with Stephen Drew at third, Eric Byrnes hit a fly ball to Spilborghs in center field. Spilborghs had time to set his feet and put momentum behind the throw, but the ball was just off the plate and Drew scored.
— When asked about difficult decisoins, such as starting Stewart instead of Clint Barmes at second base could bruise feelings and made things tough on a manager, Hurdle bristled.
“We’ve weiged that all out,” Hurdle said. “If it’s about their ego, it’s about the wrong thing. If they have any challenges or any questions, come in and we’ll talk about it. I’ll have reasons for the decisions that I make. Whether they agree with them or not, that’s understandable. You want your players to want to play.”
Hurdle then mentioned that each player should be able to look at his teammate and understand the different talents that lead to different decisions. As far as anyone knows, and we may never know, no one challenged Hurdle.
No one went public with disagreement but certainly, the potential for disagreement was there. Barmes had an outstanding Spring Training and was the primary guy all spring. But the players had to be aware of the potential of a left-on-right matchup with Stewart, who has a power swing, against Webb. The matchups dictated such the decision.
Can a player’s desire to play be contrary to a team goal? Must a player supposed to stifle his disagreement with the manager’s decision? How much should emotion be considered, against numbers and matchups?
If baseball were strictly a top-down society, where the boss’ word is law, those questions would have obvious answers. But players hold much more power, because they’re harder to replace, than the average employee. So this is not like a normal workplace, or even like the teams many of the fans played on at the youth, high school and college levels. The players’ unique sets of abilities give them a high level of clout.
So while Hurdle’s quotes to the media about the role ego should not play are well-taken, the key for him is to make sure the players are constantly kept on board with his thinking and reasoning.