February 2010

Intrasquad plans for the Rockies

The rain has subsided in Tucson, so there is a little less worry about getting in Monday’s intrasquad game than there was hours ago. So unless the wetness returns, the game is set for Monday at 12:30 p.m. MT.

Interestingly, two frontline players — third baseman Ian Stewart and center fielder Dexter Fowler — are slated to participate. But as manager Jim Tracy said, that’s merely so they’ll have enough players.

Eric Young Jr., trying to win a utility spot, will play left field — a new position. Young is a natural second baseman. He played center field in a brief stint in the Majors last season. Young also could see time at third this spring.

On the pitching side, left-hander Jimmy Gobble is the only one with significant Major League experience participating.

Chance to perform could be all wet

Rain forced the Rockies’ pitchers and hitters to work out indoors and under tents on Sunday morning. The veterans were knocked out of a chance to review game situations — manager Jim Tracy’s biggest emphasis this spring. But it could end up hurting the younger players more.

The Rockies have scheduled an intrasquad game for Monday. It’s designed as a chance for many of the younger pitchers, especially 2008 No. 1 Draft pick Christian Friedrich, and some recently-drafted players to perform in front of the big-league staff. It’s one thing to have reports and read stat sheets. But Tracy and his staff will have to see the players under game conditions to truly know what’s on the way.

However, because it so rarely rains in the desert, there isn’t a tarp at Hi Corbett Field. The infield has been taking a pounding all morning. No word yet on whether the intrasquad game will occur, but it doesn’t look good.

Corpas leaves Tracy pleased, other notes

Right-handed reliever Manuel Corpas, trying to return from an elbow injury that slowed him last season and trying to regain the form he showed in closing for the NL Champion Rockies in 2007, had a throwing Saturday session that left manager Jim Tracy encouraged.

Corpas has been nursing a hamstring problem this spring, but that wasn’t a problem when he faced hitters Saturday.

“Let’s go back and realize what I was watching from the other side of the field and what I saw take place in 2007,” said Tracy, who managed the Pirates at that point. “This was a special guy.

“What I wanted to see today, which he showed me more than once is driving the ball down. This is a very effective guy when he’s down in the zone.”

– Two players in particular have stood out for Tracy.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit .297 with 32 home runs and 92 RBIs last season. To do that, he had to overcome a bad start, as well as some bad habits in the batter’s box.

Tracy said, “I remember looking him right in the eye and saying, ‘A 6-foot-4-inch shortstop with a 5-foot-10-inch offensive approach … The first thing that you have to do in order to hit is stand up. They throw you a breaking ball and your head is going [upward] and the ball’s going that way [downward].

Man, he’s over it now.”

Tracy also discussed left fieler Carlos Gonzalez. Like many special hitters, the ball sounds different, and travels differently.

 

Former top pick Reynolds unpolished, but healthy

Rockies right-hander Greg Reynolds’ work Friday will not go down as one of baseball’s all-time great live batting practice sessions. Some fastballs threatened to shatter bats. Some were not where he wanted them.

But four months after surgery to repair his labrum, Reynolds is happy he is on the mound at all. He’s ecstatic about the fact he’ll be ready to pitch out of the rotation, most likely at Triple-A Colorado Springs, when the regular season begins.

“I feel encouraged just by the way I bounced back from surgery,” Reynolds said. “My arm feels good. I’m getting that strength back up. It feels so nice being out there, able to work on stuff without having anything in the back of your mind.”

The Rockies’ top Draft choice, second overall, in 2006, Reynolds seemed on the fast track. But a right shoulder injury in 2007 kept him from receiving an early promotion to the Majors. He saw time with the big club in 2008 but struggled (2-8, 8.13 ERA) and never found health last season.

The surgery was exploratory to an extent — his shoulder required a detailed look to see exactly what was wrong. But rehab has been quick.

While searching for answers last year, the Rockies tried to rebuild his motion from the moment he pulled the ball out of his glove on the windup. The thought was the way he was drawing his arm back was leading to the problems. But now that he’s healthy, the team is taking a different method. The emphasis is on his staying in line with home plate and not throwing across his body. So coaches are looking at the end result more than the beginning.

‘Tulo’ finds another sad reason to give back

Upon receiving a six-year, $31 million contract with the Rockies before the 2008 season, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said he wanted to organize a foundation dedicated to fighting cancer. The disease had taken his grandmother.

Now there is another inspiration to battle the disease.

On Tuedsay, Tulowitzki received a call that his cousin, longtime friend, mentor and workout partner Lexy Winters had died of melanoma.

The foundation has yet to be organized. That’s because Tulowitzki is being especially careful, wanting everything to be done right. He is following the example of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose Turn 2 Foundation is designed to motivate young people to avoid drugs and alcohol. Jeter did painstaking homework and research before the foundation was ready for the public.

“I want an organization that’s not going to be there, then be gone if I don’t become a good player,” Tulwotizki said. “I want something that’s going to make an impact on the community and get the right people involved in it.”

Tulowitzki realizes cancer touches a large number of folks. 

“I’m not the only one dealing with things,” said Tulowitzki, who said he will leave camp for California for a memorial service. “There are people out there that have family members that are sick right now. Some of them battle through and some of them get past it. Some of them don’t make it.

“But everything happens for a reason. That’s what I try to live by, and that’s how we’re handling this. It’s better than him suffering and it’s better than him not being himself.”

Tulowitzki said Winters, an older cousin, went to the same gym Tulowitzki went to when he began working out while in high school. “I told him i was going to put in double work, for him and for me,” Tulowitzki said.

Tulowitzki has inscribed “LW” on the underbrim of the cap he has worn in batting practices in Tucson. He said he’d to keep earing the inscription on his cap, and apply it to his eye black, in games, but will see whether Major League Baseball will allow it. 

Time for the full squad

The Rockies will conduct their first full-squad workout on Friday at Hi Corbett Field. For fans planning to be in the Tucson area, Tracy will bring all of the players to the Minor League conference room for his preseason talk at 10 a.m. The players will take the field sometime between 10:45 and 11, and practice until 1:30 or 1:45 p.m.

Pitcher will throw “live batting practice” to hitters, meaning they’re throwing at full speed but will have a screen in front of them to protect them from line drives. Pitching coach Bob Apodaca said the pitchers will be able to throw breaking and off-speed pitches, but he expects them to use about 85 percent fastballs.

Tracy is insisting that pitchers be more fastball-oriented. It’s not that they weren’t in the past. With Apodaca as pitching coach, there have been springs dedicated to commanding the pitch. But last season, Tracy saw some instances in which a fastball was needed but the hurler went with something else.

Payton hopes return to Rox pays off

Jay Payton’s first go-round with the Rockies wound up lucrative for him.

 

After hitting .309 with 36 home runs and 117 RBIs for the club in 2002 and 2003, Payton signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Padres. After that, he signed for two years and $9.5 million with the Orioles.

 

Now the Payton has a chance to be a bargain for the Rockies.

 

Before last season, Payton was unsigned and suffered a torn right labrum while lifting weights. It cost him all of last season. Now he is with the Rockies under a Minor League contract. There is no “out” in the deal, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster he is obligated to play at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

 

“This was one of the few teams that were going to give me an opportunity,” Payton said. “Why not? They’ve been playing great ball. I had a great time when I was here last time. I just want to come in and play after sitting out for a year.

 

“You miss it and want to come back and have fun. They have a great squad. From the outside looking in I’m more of an insurance policy than anything right now. But I want to show that I’m healthy and can still play the game.”

 

Payton said he has been throwing for four months, and he’s able to throw 180 feet on a line.

Some Rockies numbers are off-limits

The Rockies, still a young franchise, have never retired a number player’s jersey number. Officially, the only one that’s retired is Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, and that’s out of circulation throughout baseball.

But even with a large camp roster, there are two other numbers that the team isn’t giving to anyone.

One is obvious, based on accomplishment. Larry Walker, No. 33, was the franchise’s first major star. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1997, and for a time was in the conversation of the best player in the league.

The other decision is based on emotion more than stats in a Rockies uniform.

Pitcher Darryl Kile joined the Rockies in 1998 and went 21-30 with a 5.84 ERA in two seasons before being traded to the Cardinals. He had far more success with the Astros before and the Cardinals after his Rockies stint. However, Kile died unexpectedly of a heart attack on June 22, 2002, in his hotel room in Chicago before the Cardinals were to play the Cubs.

Kile’s No. 57 was issued only once after he left the club, when pitcher Jason Jennings was called up in 2001. Jennings switched to 32 in 2002. Kile’s death was felt by Rockies players who respected him as a person.

Gonzalez can hit leadoff … or anywhere

By the end of last season, the Rockies’ best lineup had left fielder Carlos Gonzalez hitting leadoff and center fielder Dexter Fowler hitting second.

Gonzalez began realizing his power potential with 12 home runs after the All-Star break last season. Such a performance begs an interesting question: Does Gonzalez fit lower in the order?

Manager Jim Tracy can see that, but said Wednesday that Gonzalez is a much better fit atop the lineup the way this team is constructed.

“Am I sitting here saying to you that as we go along that it wouldn’t make sense that we give Brad Hawpe a much-deserved day off CarGo couldn’t hit fifth? He certinly could,” Tracy said. “But when you look at the structure of the club, this guy is tremendous — he’s a five-tool player. Depending on where you put him in the lineup, are you taking part of his game away from him?

“No disrespect meant to Todd [Helton], but I’m not asking Todd to steal bases. If Todd Helton is on base in front of a ‘Tulo’ [Troy Tulowitzki] and let’s say you put CarGo down there, then neither one of them would run.”

Gonzalez, 24, stole 16 bases in 89 games last year. He and Fowler, who turns 24 on March 22 and finished last year with 27 steals, could make a jump in that category after a year’s expereince,

 

Hawpe doesn’t have to run out for a first baseman’s mitt

The need for Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe to learn to play first base was reduced when the Rockies re-signed Jason Giambi, last year’s late-season addition, and also reached an agreement with versatile Melvin Mora. Before then, the Rockies toyed with making Hawpe the backup at first base to Todd Helton in addition to his duties in right.

Hawpe said he’ll prepare to play some first base, just in case. He’ll have to dust off his mitt.

“I’ve had one my whole life,” Hawpe said. “if they need me, whatever I can do …”

Hawpe wanted to do some work at first base this offseason. But the bad weather that hit the entire country didn’t spare Fort Worth, Texas, where he spends his winters.

“It was December so it was hard to get on the field,” Hawpe said. “I went to Fort Worth and we got 14 inches of snow one day.

“I only got on the field a couple of times.”

 

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