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.

 

3 Comments

I think that too many people put too much emphasis on opening day. This was only one game, and it being the first one, I think that people should cut the players and coaches some slack. The bad things that happened in yesterdays game are going to happen again, but it just can’t be as frequent as last year for the Rockies to succeed. I think that challenging Hurdle would be a bad thing, but he just says to challenge him to the media so he seems like a “tough guy”. That part of Hurdle’s post game confused me quite a bit. Once again, I think that people over react to opening day because your heart is racing and your disappointed your team didn’t win the first game, but at the same time you can’t forget you have many, many games left.

That is certainly true, there are many games left. Not that a lot can be read into it, but I liked the mood of the club after the game. It wasn’t, “Oh, no, we lost to the D-backs again,” it was, “If we play offensively like this, we’re going to win a lot of games.” That’s cool. If Hurdle’s lineup for that game established that he’s going to play the matchups, and if he sticks to that, then any confusion over his decision to start Stewart over Barmes will iron itself out. How the team handles its triumphs and disappointments will determine how far it can go. Well, that and pitching.

During BP today I noticed it was very business like and really no show of any sadness. It was good to see and the guys came through like professionals. A much better game in a lot of ways and I hope I see the same thing tomorrow. There didn’t seem to be any mental errors and I liked all the moves that were made during the game. Here’s to taking the series before heading back to D-town!
Tom
http://rockymountainway.mlblogs.com

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