February 2010

Tracy sifting through catching depth

Rockies manager Jim Tracy is planning on a catching combination, not a catching controversy, with Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo.

We have two quality guys that are both going to catch,” Tracy said. “And as we move into the season, we have two quality guys that are both going to catch. And I really believe if we do it that way, we’re going to get the best of both worlds.”

In Spring Training, Tracy is looking beyond the two the team is planning on having on the Opening Day roster.

“We have a veteran presence in Paul Phillips, who did some special things for a good team a year ago, and Paul Lo Duca is in here,” Tracy said. “Not only do you want to feel comfortable with where you are at as you go into Opening Day, but that is a very demanding position. You’re also making sure that you have your optional plans in place, too.”

Discussions of third and fourth catchers when a team is going to have just two might seem trivial. But last year’s two catchers, Yorvit Torrealba and Iannetta, weren’t available for an 11-game win streak that ignited the run to the playoffs. Torrealba was dealing with the kidnapping of his son in Venezuela and Iannetta was out with a hamstring injury.

“Edwin Bellorin [now with the Royals] and Paul Phillips were doing an awful lot of catching,” Tracy said. “We had a four-hit game by Paul Phillips in St. Louis, and one of a little bit of everything — a hit-and-run base hit, a line drive, we used the whole playbook on him, and he responded to all of it. And Bellorin caught a tremendous game in Game 4 of the series against Houston.”

Outfield arrivals

Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith arrived at camp this morning. Maybe they were smart. After a cold, rainy Monday, the sun is back today. It’ll still be cool, at least for Tucson, but things will pick up toward the end of the week. Officially, position players are due to report Thursday, and the first full-squad workout is Friday.

Stay in the correct lane

As position players take informal batting practice on the main diamond at Hi Corbett Field, there are cones set up along the power alleys, from the warning track almost to the infield, on each side. They’re reminders for hitters.

Spring Training is about that: get your stroke first, stay in the middle of the field,” Rockies hitting cach Don Baylor said. “You’re not here to pull every pitch to get into some bad habits. We’re trying to develop some good habits early.”

It’s difficult to hit a home run on the main field at Hi Corbett. In Baylor’s view, that’s good. Since the ball doesn’t travel well in most cases, taking wild, hard swings doesn’t pay off. So players can work on fundamental approaches.

“The wind is blowing out most of the time, but it’s blowing out on the other fields,” Baylor said.

Baylor relishes Triple-A honor

There was a time when Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor wanted to be anywhere but in Rochester, N.Y., but that was understandable. After earning Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors in 1970 while playing for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Baylor’s rewad in 1971 was to begin the season in Rochester once more.

“That was a difficult time,” Baylor said. “Today is different. They want players in the big leagues now. We were stockpiling back then.”

Now Rochester has a happier meaning for Baylor. Last month, Baylor learned that he had been chosen to the Intrenational League Hall of Fame.

Baylor was inducted alongside second baseman Bobby Grich, his teammate then, as well as in the Majors with the Orioles and the Angels.

“When I got the call the feelling was, ‘OK, tell me Grich was the other guy,'” Baylor said. “They said, ‘Absolutely.’

“We roomed together in Bluefield (W.Va., in Rookie ball). That was the first time we got together as players, and all through the system we came up together, played in the big leagues togethre for a long time. He’s my son’s godfather.”

Baylor was humbled over the company he joined in th IL Hall of Fame. Part of this year’s class of inductees was longtime Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who managed the Monteal Royals.

“Some of the names made an impression,” Baylor said.

Corpas’ bullpen session ‘OK’

Rockies right-handed reliever Manuel Corpas, who suffered discomfort in his right hamstring on Sunday, threw his scheduled bullpen session on Monday. Afterward, he was in the clubhouse with the leg wrapped from the upper thigh to the knee. He described the session as “OK,” and said the hamstring was not a problem.

Pitching prospect Craig Baker experienced no soreness in his midsection, after experiencing pain there on Sunday.

For the second time in three days, rain hit at Hi Corbett Field and curtailed the workout. Manager Jim Tracy said the team avoided the “rag ball” workout — where softer balls are knocked at pitchers at high speeds — and didn’t have pitchers charging bunts. That reduced the risk of a pitcher slipping on wet grass and suffering an injury.

Friday’s first full-squad workout will also be the first time that pitchers throw “live” batting practice. In those sessions, the pitcher is at full speed with the batter in the box, but there is a batting cage and a screen in front of the pitcher. Often at the earliest stages of spring, hitters don’t swing. They’re just watching pitches for timing purposes.

Tulowitzki, Spilborghs and Hawpe arrive

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki showed up at Hi Corbett Field on Monday morning. So did outfielders Dexter Fowler and Ryan Spilborghs. The first full-squad workout isn’t until Friday, but just about everyone is in. The only regulars who haven’t been seen are outfielders Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith. But like the others, there is no concern about them being on time or in shape.

 

I saw Tulowitzki recently in Denver, and he said he was trying to curb is excitement because it’s so early and the season is so long. Tulowitzki, a high-energy player, is still trying to contain himself. But that’s a little harder to do now.

 

“Anytime my buddies or family ask if I’m excited for Spring Training to start, my answer is always I’m not as excited until I get here, and I see the guys, and I see the fields, and I see everybody that I basically go to work with,” Tulowitzki said. “That kicks it into the next gear.

 

“Being here and putting your stuff in the locker and being in this atmosphere gets you ready to start playing.”

 

Update: Was sitting and enjoying dinner when it hit me. There was one other position player I hadn’t seen as of Sunday — outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Well, it’s the same as with Hawpe and Smith: He’ll be ready.

 

No stress (or strain) for Corpas

Rockies manager Jim Tracy said right-handed reliever Manuel Corpas was held out of running drills at the end of Sunday’s workout because of a slight hamstring issue that arose during a fielding drill. Tracy said it was so minor that head athletic trainer Keith Dugger didn’t even classify it as a strain. It doesn’t affect his ability to throw bullpen sessions. He’s scheduled to throw Monday.

Also, pitching prospect Craig Baker had a bullpen session pushed back because of soreness in his midsection. It occurred during a slug-bunt drill. Tracy said it elicited a nice one-liner from pitcher Aaron Cook.

“‘As Cookie’ told him, ‘We already have a four-hole hitter,'” Tracy said.

Tracy also added that the Rockies are planning an intrasquad game as on March 1. It’ll be a chance to see some of the younger pitchers and position playres.

Rain hits, but the important work is done

A hard and chilly rain hit Tucson right around the time the Rockies’ pitchers and catchers were scheduled to end their drills during Saturday morning’s workout. It forced the team to change some plans for post-workout conditioning, but manager Jim Tracy said the baseball work was done.

Tracy is calling on his pitchers to be versatile offensively. Most of the time they’ll be asked to advance runners, with the bunt being the No. 1 weapon. But if pitchers develp the ability to slug-bunt for a base hit in such a situation or hit-and-run, suddenly Tracy can make surprise calls — or at least give the opponent other factors to consider.

“You look at those great Braves clubs with [Greg] Maddux, and [John] Smoltz, and [Tom] Glavine, and, back in the day, [Steve] Avery,” Tracy said. “One of the things you knew, and this goes back to when I was a coach in Montreal, they started and were able to do a lot of things. When they walked to the plate, yes, you knew a bunt was in order and there were times they would do that.

“But you had to be concious about the fact they could possibly do anything. That alone right there eased the opportunity for you to get the job done.”

Jason Marquis, one of baseball’s best offensive pitchers, took his bat and arm to the Nationals this winter after a strong 2009 for the Rockies. But Aaron Cook is such a versatile hitter that former manager Clint Hurdle used him as a pinch-hitter, and Jeff Francis has been more-than respectable at the plate.

At one point, stories of Ubaldo Jimenez’s ineptitude with the bat were sources of comedy, and Jorge De La Rosa wasn’t good, eithre. Now Jimenez is advanced with the bat. De La Rosa won an important game with the Mets last season with a double. Tracy said Jason Hammel, who had been in the American League with the Rays before being traded to the Rockies at the start of the seaso, also improved as last season progressed.

Look for Jimenez to start Opening Day

Rockies manager Jim Tracy didn’t name right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez the starter for Opening Day, April 5 at Milwaukee on Saturday. But that has more to do with the fact he just has yet to have that formal conversation with Jimenez.

“Not just yet, but in due time I’m probably going to tell him something,” Tracy said with a smile. “You guys can take an educated guess on that, but I’d say you’d be close to being right.

“I enjoy every day with this young man. I really do. He has a presence about him. It’s not a feel-good statement on my part. It’s an observation — this guy brings the attention to himself that you would look to see an individual look to take on. It’s not that he’s doing something to grab somebody’s attention or he needs attention. He’s a presence.”

Jimenez taking the opener is by no means a stretch. He emerged as the best pitcher on the staff last year, finished 15-12 with a 3.47 ERA (a record for a Rockies starter), and received the Game 1 nod in the National League Division Series.

Not that anyone in Denver is crying …

… but it’s been cool and a little wet here this morning. The temperature is barely in the 50s, and light rain is falling at Hi Corbett Field. Position players abandoned fielding and area taking batting practice on the main stadium field. Hitting coach Don Baylor and Todd Helton, two Rockies elder statesmen, have donned heavier long-sleeve jackets.

Third baseman Ian Stewart made his first appearance at camp. I saw him during the winter in Denver, but didn’t realize how much his upper body has filled out. You see those triceps and think power.

 

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