May 2009

Now, back to the (injury rehab) game …

Time to blog about today’s big news. Well, actually, I’m blogging about the other big news.

Injuries play a role in any team’s poor start, and a big one was to left-hander Franklin Morales, who can be a difference-make if he produces to the level of his immense talent. Morales, who suffered a shoulder injury in his second start of the season, will make his first injury rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Colorado Springs against Tacoma at Security Service Field in Colorado Springs.

Morales has been out since April 21 with a shoulder strain. After pitching well at the end of 2007 as a late-season callup, Morales proved last year he wasn’t ready for the Majors. But he made the team out of Spring Training as the fifth starter and held the D-backs to one run in six innings of his first start. He suffered the injury in his next start.

Morales said he’ll throw 75-80 pitches.

“I’m very excited because I need to focus on my game,” said Morales, who has thrown two simulated games and is confident in the condition of the shoulder.

Same as it ever was … or not

Nice little fact about the Rockies. Their 18-27 record going into Wednesday afternoon’s game with the Dodgers is the exact same mark as at this point last year. It’s also the same mark they had in 2007.

But this year’s mark is worse than the previous two.

All it takes is a look at the National League West standings. In 2007, they were seven games of the pace. Last year, they were 10 1/2.

This time, they’re 13 games behind the first-place Dodgers.

That’s not saying there’s no hope, but might as well put the figure, and the Rockies’ challenge, into perspective. It’s why the Rockies are facing desperation, why manager Clint Hurdle’s future employment is a subject of local speculation.

Here are Wednesday afternoon’s lineups:

Dodgers

Juan Pierre, LF

Mark Loretta, 3B

Orlando Hudson, 2B

James Loney, 1B

Russell Martin, C

Andre Ethier, RF

Matt Kemp, CF

Juan Castro, SS

Clayton Kershaw, P

Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Todd Helton, 1B

Matt Murton, LF

Ryan Spilborghs, RF

Clint Barmes, 2B

Paul Phillips, C

Ubaldo Jimenez, P

 

 

Hawpe hurting, out of the lineup

Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe suffered a slight groin injury during Monday’s 16-6 loss to the Dodgers. Manager Clint Hurdle said it occurred before Hawpe’s unsuccessful dive for a Jamie Hoffman line drive, which turned into a seventh-inning double.

Matt Murton, who has hit .376 wth a homer and four RBIs since his callup from Triple-A Colorado Springs, is starting in Hawpe’s place.

But first baseman Todd Helton’s migraine symptoms are not an issue, so he’s back in the lineup.

Here’s are the teams’ batting orders:

Dodgers

Juan Pierre, LF

Orlando Hudson, 2B

Andre Ethier, RF

Casey Blake, 3B

James Loney, 1B

Matt Kemp, CF

Juan Castro, SS

Brad Ausmus, C

Eric Milton, P

Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Todd Helton, 1B

Ryan Spilborghs, RF

Matt Murton, LF

Garrett Atkins, 3B

Yorvit Torrealba, C

Aaron Cook, P

Moments worth framing

The Rockies honored first baseman Todd Helton on Monday for achieving his 2,000th career hit on the road at Atlanta. The club played a tribute of his various milestone hits, including his home run against the Dodgers in 2007 that seemed to make the Rockies believe that their late-season playoff run was possible.

With owners Charlie and Dick Monfort, club president Keli McGregor, general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle at his side, Helton received a framed presentation. It consisted of photos of his swing at various points of his career, and the Denver Post article the day after he reached the milestone.

The Dragonslayer returns

What’s cool about a small-market franchise like the Rockies having success, as they did in 2007, is guys that are considered journeymen can attain immortal status. Infielder Jamey Carroll, now with the Indians, is one. Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba has not had the same playing time he did back then, but his home run to send the Rockies to the World Series will never be forgotten.

Right-handed pitcher Josh Fogg also enjoys a status here that will never die. In 2007, he displayed a penchant for pitching the Rockies to wins when they faced big-name pitcher. Suddenly, folks started calling him The Dragonslayer.

Fogg parlayed his success in Denver into a free-agent contract with the Reds last season. The dragons caught up with him in Cincinnati. Actually, they were the dragons from within. His throwing motion becamre so out of whack that he experienced no success with the Reds, and all he could land was a Minor League deal with the Rockies for 2009. It took until now for Fogg to correct what went wrong.

Now he’s back. The Rockies jettisoned righty Matt Belisle and brought back Fogg for the long relief role. There may be some spot-starts for him, but his role will be out of the bullpen.

It’s a challenge. The sporadic work in the bullpen with the Reds helped lead to the complete destruction of his mechanics. But it’s an opportunity.

He’ll never lose his Dragonslayer status. But that was then. He’ll have to show he can handle his new role to attract greater appreciation.

Fogg’s return in a Rockies uniform — he’ll wear 51 instead of 37, which belongs to Ryan Speier — could be Monday against the Dodgers. But rain falls as this is being written. So if there is baseball, here are the lineups:

Dodgers

Juan Pierre, CF

Russell Martin, C

Orlando Hudson, 2B

Casey Blake, 3B

Matt Kemp, CF

James Loney, 1B

Jamie Hoffman, RF

Juan Castro, SS

Eric Stultz, P

Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Todd Helton, 1B

Ryan Spilborghs, LF

Brad Hawpe, RF

Garrett Atkins, 3B

Clint Barmes, 2B

Yorvit Torrealba, C

Jorge De La Rosa, P

Morales healthy, but needs work

First of all, no lineup blog tonight. I had other duties, so the game with the Braves is under way. There is a story on the site on the big lineup move, with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki being punished for an at-bat approach that manager Clint Hurdle didn’t like at all. It’s more than a story about one guy. It has to do with Hurdle’s attempt to refocus the club.

Anyhow, lefty Franklin Morales, still on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, threw a simulated game at Turner Field on Wednesday. he was healthy and threw all his pitches. He was wild, and at times scary for the hitters who faced him, Yorvit Torrealba, Omar Quintanilla, Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler and Matt Murton.

Morales said he’ll throw another bullpen session, and Hurdle said the club is looking for another simulated game for Morales before he begins a Minor League rehab assignment.

Also, lefty Greg Smith, who is recovering from shoulder problems that set in late in Spring Training, will pitch at Triple-A Colorado Springs on Sunday, after throwing twice at Class-A Modesto. Righty reliever Ryan Speier, who suffered a left hamstring strain in April, will move from Modesto to Double-A Tulsa. Speier could appear Wednesday night. 

Helton takes a rest on the edge of 2,000

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton had started all but three of the team’s first 35 games this season. So he took a well-deserve rest on Sunday.

Helton is presumably available for pinch-hit and defensive duty, so there’s a chance he’ll get the one hit he needs to each 2,000 for his career. But manager Clint Hurdle kept him out of the starting lineup.

Hurdle, Helton and the training staff stay in constant contact about how Helton feels, since he underwent back surgery at the end of last season. After a long streak in the lineup, Helton felt the need to step back on Sunday.

“You need to give him some breaks, and this is one he is embracing, because he has been full-throttle for a large volume of games,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle took his three games off during the early days of the season. But given the caution the team is taking, no one expected Helton to have played so much at this point.

“I’d say pleasantly surprised, but I hate to use the word surprised when it comes to Todd because he’s capable of so much with his mindset, his determination, his resiliency,” Hurdle said. “He’s playing more than I anticipated him being able to play and he’s playing at a high level.”

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is batting third for the first time in his career, Garrett Atkins, after a hard work day Saturday to improve his hitting, is playing first base, and Dexter Fowler, who is having strikeout issues from the right side, is on the bench.

Rockies

CF Ryan Spilborghs

2B Clint Barmes

SS Troy Tulowitzki

RF Brad Hawpe

LF Matt Murton

1B Garrett Atkins

C Yorvit Torrealba

3B Ian Stewart

P Ubaldo Jimenez

Pirates

RF Delwyn Young

2B Freddy Sanchez

CF Nate McLouth

1B Adam LaRoche

C Robinzon Diaz

LF Brandon Moss

3B Andy LaRoche

SS Jack Wilson

P Zach Duke

Atkins becomes spot player

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle insisted that he’s not going to bury third baseman Garrett Atkins. But Saturday’s decision to start Ian Stewart at third base, on the heels of Stewart’s pinch-hitting for Atkins in the ninth inning Friday night, is a signal that Atkins’ playing time will be cut as he tries to work through a season-long slump.

“I’ve tried to find different ways to catch a fuse for him, and yesterday it was putting him in the cleanup spot based on a matchup and faith,” Hurdle said. “I had a nice conversation with him today, a very engaging and challenging conversation about what we’re going to do together, what we need to do for him, what he needs to do for himself to get him back in a spot in the lineup we’d like to have him in.

“But right now we’ve got to go out there the best way we can to win a ballgame. He understands that. I told him I’m not going to ice him, but I’m going to get him involved when I think it’s the right fit.”

This is a personal project for Hurdle, because the Rockies’ hitting coach, Don Baylor, is not with the club. According to Jack Etkin of insidetherockies.com, Baylor is being treated for pneumonia at a Denver-area hospital. 

Hurdle said the Rockies have tried everything, including the old, forget everything and just hit, approach. That didn’t work, so Hurdle is offering specific moves to help Atkins regain form and confidence.

Here are Saturday night’s lineups:

Rockies

Dexter Fowler                CF

Troy Tulowitzki               SS

Todd Helton                   1B

Brad Hawpe                   RF

Ryan Spilborghs             LF

Ian Stewart                    3B

Chris Iannetta                 C

Clint Barmes                 2B

Aaron Cook                    P

Pirates

Delwyn Young                RF

Freddy Sanchez             2B

Nate McLouth                CF

Adam LaRoche              1B

Brandon Moss                LF

Andy LaRoche                3B

Jason Jarmillo                  C

Jack Wilso                     SS

Ian Snell                          P

Greetings from the Steel City — and hello to Randy Flores

It’s a nice, warm night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are going to have home-ice advangtage against the Hurricanes. It’s also where the Pirates missed out on a chance of a sweep of the Cardinals. It would be cool for the Rockies to have a shot at sweeping a team at some point, wouldn’t it? The Rockies and Pirates will meet for three games starting Friday night.

Several baseball sources say veteran left-hander Randy Flores will join the Rockies. Flores, who pitched for the Cardinals last season but underwent shoulder surgery at season’s end, is 0-2 with a 5.51 ERA in 15 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Expected to lose his roster spot is lefty Glendon Rusch. who is 2-0 with a 6.75 ERA in 11 games this season.

Go Pens! … Nothing wrong with Barmes

As I write, the Penguins are up on the Capitals, 4-0, in the second period of Game 7. How cool.

Good comment on yesterday’s blog: infielder Clint Barmes has been notably absent from the starting lineup, and he isn’t starting tonight, either. It would make some sense to have him at second as another left-handed bat against Astros lefty Mike Hampton. Plus, Barmes hasn’t been in the lineup since Friday, when he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against the Marlins.

Checked with Barmes today. He’s not injured and says he’s ready to play when needed.

A few factors keep Barmes out of the lineup:

– The Rockies are giving third baseman Garrett Atkins more time to overcome his almost season-long hitting slump. Manager Clint Hurdle said he gives a younger player abotu 100 at-bats and a player of Atkins’ experience about 150 at-bats to find his form.

– Stewart hit two home runs last night agianst the Astros. He also has a history of hitting lefties well.

“I want to see him against this left-hander, Mike [Hampton],” Hurdle said. “We know him a little bit, not that ‘Stew’ does. Just watching tape and historically, Mike gets outs. There’s no doubt he can get people out. His walks-to-strikeouts ratio is better against left-handers but the batting average is pretty similar, .284 to .281.

“‘Stew’ still has a pretty good history of hitting left-handed pitching. [Thursday starter Wandy] Rodriguez could present more of a challenge. He’s just off to a tremendous start this year, overall and especially against left-handed hitters. And I want to play off the momentum he was able to create and bring to the table yesterday.”

Here are both lineups:

Astros

Kazuo Matsui            2B

Michael Bourn           CF

Lance Berkman         1B

Carlos Lee                 LF

Miguel Tejada            SS

Hunter Pence            RF

Geoff Blum                3B

Humberto Quintero      C

Mike Hampton            P

Rockies

Dexter Fowler           CF

Troy Tulowitzki         SS

Todd Helton              1B

Ryan Spilborghs        LF

Brad Hawpe              RF

Garrett Atkins           3B

Chris Iannetta             C

Ian Stewart                2B

Jason Marquis             P

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